After 20 years of leading Panorama, the prominent retirement community in southeast Lacey, President and CEO Joseph Di Santo has announced that he will retire. His last day is Aug. 1.
Di Santo will be replaced by a co-executive leadership team. Bill Strader, the current executive vice president and chief financial officer, will become CEO and chief financial officer. Matthew Murry, also a current executive vice president, plus chief operations officer, will become president and chief operating officer.
Di Santo, who is set to turn 69, was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. At 15, he worked at a filling station, checking the oil, tires and cleaning car windows for each customer needing gas. A regular noticed Di Santo’s attention to customer service and suggested he work for a hotel that the man was building in the area. That led to work as a part-time bellman and dishwasher while he finished high school. Then those same hotel investors, all of whom attended Oklahoma State University, sent Di Santo to the same school and paid for it. He earned a degree in hotel and restaurant administration and worked in the hotel industry for the next 20 years, rising to become president of a small hotel chain. He eventually was recruited to run retirement communities, which in time led him to the Northwest and Panorama. Panorama today has about 1,200 residents and a staff of 400.
We asked Di Santo five questions about his time at Panorama.
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Q: How did service become so important to you?
A: It came naturally. How, I don’t know, but it did. The hotel business really came naturally because the whole thing is service. There’s nothing else, that’s the only business. You make the bed, take care of the bathroom, give them food, wait on them, carry the luggage. It’s about service.
Q: What did you think about Panorama after you were hired and where did it need it to go?
A: The potential was great but the business was slow. Basically, it needed to be improved. It needed an infusion of business. So I got busy. Most people in the retirement business sell a clinical model. They say, “You’re old. We’ve got a nursing home if you need it.” Here, I developed a resort way of doing business. This is a resort, but if you need clinical help, it’s here. So, we built a swimming pool, an auditorium, and we have 85 clubs and organizations that residents run. We also take great pride in our art collection at Panorama. We created a resort. That’s what this is.
Q: When did you start to see growth?
A: The growth started in 2000. One of my biggest backgrounds is in marketing. I take pride in marketing. I got with the sales team and started anew on how we were going to carry this business forward. People ask me if we’re going to continue to grow. Right now we’re at our geographical limit — 140 acres. However, what I’m going to do is improve everything here. If something needs to be torn down, we’ll tear it down and rebuild it. That’s what you have to do. You can’t keep renovating 50-year-old homes because they’re still 50-year-old buildings.
Q: After 20 years, how has Panorama changed?
A: Ten-thousand people a day turn 65 years old. And that will continue for another 19 years. The average age since I’ve been here has been around 77. But because of the baby boom and all the children born after the Second World War, we have seen the average age fall. They’re starting to move in at a younger age. But we welcome that. We’re here for everybody.
Q: What will you remember about your time here?
A: The great board I have. These people are doctors, business people, real estate people, president of this company, president of that company. But they have the residents here in their hearts. They’re here for them. They really care about these people. I’ll also remember how we turned this place around. It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen. The board, the staff and how they turned this place around to make it what it is today. I’ll remember that and take that with me.