Mike Garrard has popped the top on a new career as executive director of the Silvercreek Senior Living Center in Olive Branch.
For many years, during school at the University of Memphis and after, Garrard worked in the food and beverage industry, first for a chain of grocery stores and then a decade in sales for national food brokerage firms Acosta Sales & Marketing and Advantage Sales and Marketing.
Garrard segued into sales with industry leaders such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, at one point in management overseeing seven states for Pepsi alone.
Though he would remain in management, the switch to a different industry in October 2011 came through networking. A spiritual man – Garrard attends Central Church in Collierville – he said he “sent out a basic prayer request-slash-networking to all our family and friends through email, text, phone calls, whatever it may be, and just said, ‘please pray for us, please pray for vision for an opportunity in a whole different industry.’”
The message was sent out on a Friday and by Monday morning his future boss at Silvercreek, who happened to get that message, called and offered him the job only 10 months after the facility had opened.
“It was just an unbelievable opportunity and has hopefully been my last career update, to be honest with you, because I love it here,” Garrard said.
He had come from management where he was working with teams of up to 180 employees, and would continue in such a capacity, initially managing 20 when he first began with Silvercreek.
“The main thing, I think, was getting to understand taking care of senior adults,” Garrard said. “So the curve in the road for managing this building, managing people, was no problem. Managing senior adults, yeah, that’s a new industry and that was a 180-degree turn.”
It was a challenge Garrard jumped into headlong, calling on his years of experience to learn quickly and to excel in his new position.
“My strength in the workforce is that I love people, there’s not anybody I can’t get along with,” he said. “So that part, to me, whether it was staff or residents that live here, was not hard at all.”
In addition to a positive attitude and management skills, Garrard has worked in financial counseling through his church and is comfortable sitting down with families to talk about what is affordable, long-term care insurance, veterans’ benefits, selling a home and “all the pieces that come together for somebody to live in a community like this.”
“It was just an unbelievable opportunity and has hopefully been my last career update, to be honest with you, because I love it here.”
If his career move was challenging, it was the rewards that made it all worthwhile. As a food broker or soft drink salesman, Garrard would go home at the end of the day “defeated and beat up.” Not the demeanor he wanted to take home to his wife, Shelly, an LPN, and their two children – Evan, 22, and Hannah, 19. The day’s end is different now.
“I can have some of the worst days in my office in the world, but if I go out there and see one of those residents that I know we’ve poured our heart into … then that makes me easily able to wake up the next morning and come back again,” he said.
It’s a growing industry and a trend that is expected to increase as baby boomers age. Silvercreek has 99 apartments onsite; there were 28 residents when Garrard started work in 2011 and is currently at about 85 percent occupancy with a capacity of 118.
The parent company is the 9-year-old, private and locally owned Germantown Plantation Senior Living Community, giving the organization “more of a personal touch, hands-on” feel, Garrard said. “What helps with support and our staff is that our owners are so involved and so committed to making these two buildings do the right thing and be the right thing for this type of industry and community.”
The majority of Silvercreek residents or their families are from the tri-state area. But for those from New Jersey, New Hampshire and Arizona, part of that draw is Southern hospitality as well as the notion that “residents come first,” Garrard said.
Garrard is at home now, and reveling in a philosophy that didn’t quite jibe with the food and beverage industry.
“We will do everything for them, even on our bad days … ,” he said. “No. 1 priority is that I can frown in my office, but when I’m on that floor I’m going to smile, I’m going to love them because we want to care for them while we’re here.”