“Leaving a well paying career as an attorney was hard. My entire family misses my income, and the freedoms and luxuries we once took for granted. However, the weight of that sacrifice is small compared to the worry I have over (i) my daughter’s future well-being; and (ii) performing well for the investors, lenders and families who have trusted and are relying on me. The responsibility can feel overwhelming at times. Perhaps that’s why, then, each quantum of success or progress feels so rewarding. It has certainly been worth the effort.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Roth the Founder and Chief Executive of ECC Management, LLC. ECC is developing Luna Azul (www.lunaPHX.com), a Phoenix area “pocket neighborhood” designed for adults with intellectual, developmental and acquired disabilities. Uniquely, homes in the gated community are being sold outright rather than rented, translating to substantial long-term cost savings, and unparalleled control, independence, and peace of mind.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I have an 18 year-old daughter with a developmental disability, and about five years ago started looking into where and how she might live as an adult.
My investigation into group homes was haunting. There are many competent service providers and operators, and many knowledgeable and caring professionals ready to provide housing, habilitation and other supports for Emma. But the few group homes we found in the city were reliant on and constrained by government and charitable funding. Residents were often stuck, indefinitely, with roommates chosen for them by others. We heard of terrific farm-like settings far out of town, and of parents sometimes grouping together to buy urban condos or houses for their adult children. But just like at the group homes scattered around the city, all these residents were isolated rather than integrated in the community, and their social, recreational and vocational desires were captive to the cost and schedules of an ever-changing roster of minimum wage workers. I was awake countless nights.
I realized what I was looking for didn’t exist, and that no one else was likely to build what I envisioned. I left a 25+ year career as an attorney and, five years later, we’ve finally broken ground. Luna Azul will be an impeccably-built, intimate, cottage-style, urban community specifically designed for adults with intellectual, developmental and acquired disabilities. Ours is a community where residents can live permanently and safely, make lasting friendships, and conveniently access services, employment opportunities and urban amenities. And unlike any other congregate living solution we’ve found, we will own our daughter’s home. This is where I want my daughter to live (and she’s excited to live there too).
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
What stands out most is the number of people who doubted me. I’ve met dozens of people who either rejected my plan entirely or advised me how to proceed with their vision. If I wasn’t working on my daughter’s future, I don’t think I could’ve persevered. I am pleased to be here on the other side.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
No one else in the country is building and selling homes to adults with disabilities. Compared to renting, the advantages of ownership are substantial.
Safety: Through the Home Owners Association, the gated community will provide a controlled entry, 24/7 onsite staff and a full-time director who is answerable to the homeowners, not to a landlord.
Permanence: Since we’ll own the home, our family will never worry about rent increases, lease renewals, or about the property being sold.
Inclusive: Residents will be living among differently-abled but like-minded neighbors. Here, my daughter will be invited to the pool parties and other neighborhood events.
Independent: Each family will be responsible for securing the support services required by their adult family member. That means my daughter will have the freedoms and restrictions that are appropriate for her, regardless of the neighbors’ needs.
Control: Our family will choose (and replace) roommates and in-home caregivers. My daughter will come and go, and have guests, meals, pets, furniture and interior decorations as she pleases. She may even let me and her mom sleep over.
Urban: Luna Azul is located in North Phoenix with easy access to vocational and recreational opportunities, to urban amenities, and importantly, to her family.
Cost: I’m budgeting for 45 years. The cost of owning my daughter’s home over that time is substantially less than the cost of renting. And factoring in reasonable rent charged to a roommate, the cost benefit becomes even more stark.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Surround yourself with good, smart people; then be humble and listen.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
There are several, but today one stands apart. Charlie Hammerman is the CEO of The Disability Opportunity Fund (www.thedof.org) in New York. Investors and bankers don’t much like funding first of its kind projects and, as such, obtaining construction financing was very difficult. Charlie (and his wife Nanci) understood my vision in less than 30 minutes, embraced it and personally moved mountains to secure the money we needed. I am humbled by Charlie’s faith in me, and forever grateful for his help.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Iwas haunted most by the idea that my daughter might be trapped in her home, an outcast in her neighborhood and without a meaningful social life. Now I wake up each day focused on creating a comfortable, inclusive living environment for her, her friends and their families. The life I envisioned for her will be a reality. I’ve never felt better working on anything else.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
(i) No one cares about your business as much as you.
I’ve assembled an A+ team of professionals to help with this project, and I could not have gotten here without them. But none of them are up at night, like me, worrying about this project. Perhaps that is as it should be. But it can be lonely at the top.
(ii) You won’t win any popularity contests.
I often feel guilty editing, criticizing and monitoring progress on the work I require from others. I’m blessed to be surrounded by skilled people but, being responsible for the success (or failure) of the business, their work must ultimately conform to my vision. I’ll keep working on my people skills.
(iii) Money can be hard to get.
I’ve met many people who like our company’s focus, and even thank me for working on it. I’ve met far fewer, however, who are willing to invest. Equity and debt sources rightly need reassurances. When you’re selling a never- been-tried idea like Luna Azul, despite any altruistic benefits, money can be especially difficult to find.
(iv) Money can be hard to keep.
Good talent is indeed hard to find, but there is no shortage of people who want you to pay them for their services. It is the rare employee or consultant who is looking hard to save you money. When you find someone good, efficient and ethical, work hard to keep them around. And before you sign that contract, trust but verify.
(v) Responsibility can be distressing. And even more rewarding.
Leaving a well paying career as an attorney was hard. My entire family misses my income, and the freedoms and luxuries we once took for granted. However, the weight of that sacrifice is small compared to the worry I have over (i) my daughter’s future well-being; and (ii) performing well for the investors, lenders and families who have trusted and are relying on me.
The responsibility can feel overwhelming at times. Perhaps that’s why, then, each quantum of success or progress feels so rewarding. It has certainly been worth the effort.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
I’d like to meet with Sheryl Palmer, CEO of Taylor Morrison Homes. In my current role developing specialty real estate, with an eye to developing many more communities like Luna Azul, even a short visit with Ms. Palmer could be invaluable.
Taylor Morrison has a reputation of being one of the most trusted home builders in the nation. Ms. Palmer has decades of home building experience, became CEO at Taylor Morrison when she was only in her mid-40s, and was named Chairman last year. On her watch the company went public, received numerous regional awards, and was named Builder of the Year in 2013, Green Builder of the Year in 2014, and Fastest Growing Public Builder in the country in 2014. Perhaps most importantly to me, though, Ms. Palmer is on the Board and Executive Committee of HomeAid America, a non-profit developing housing for the homeless.
From my vantage, Sheryl Palmer has a rare combination of industry smarts, over-the-top accomplishment in her field and a commitment to those less fortunate.
If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, Authority Magazine, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.