You might not think a culinary internship at Walt Disney World would lead to a career in facilities oversight for a company specializing in senior living. But, John Sattelmayer has found it to be a logical progression. “You don’t go to college to be a facilities director,” he says. “You learn by doing a variety of different jobs and being very hands-on.” Indeed, Sattelmayer’s career has taken him from the kitchen to the hospitality industry to the world of senior housing, and now that he’s the senior vice president of facilities management for Enlivant, he’s relying on his rich experience to inform his decisions.
John Sattelmayer’s Career Milestones
1987: Graduates with a BS in food and lodging systems management from Southern Illinois University–Carbondale
1991: After working as a chef for several years, Sattelmayer joins Marriott International and eventually becomes its director of facilities management, spearheading the company’s move into facilities management at colleges, in office buildings, in hospitals, and in senior-housing developments
1996: Graduates with a masters in project management from the Keller Graduate Schoolsenior-housing developments
2001: Moves to Horizon Bay Management for a turn as the firm’s senior vice president of facilities management; he helps the company start a program called Eco Friends to encourage recycling, energy management, and sustainability awareness
2011: Horizon Bay merges with Brookdale Senior Living, and Sattelmayer stays on for a little more than a year as the senior director of corporate development, working on repostioning the company’s assets
2012: Becomes the chief facilities director for the Laser Spine Institute
2013: Joins HCP, a Fortune 500 REIT, as its director of capital asset management
2014: Moves to Enlivant to become its senior vice president of facilities management and oversees maintenance, housekeeping, procurement, and food service for the company’s communities
Sattelmayer got his undergraduate degree in food and lodging systems management from Southern Illinois University–Carbondale. His stint as a chef led to him learning how to run a food-service operation—which eventually led to work for Marriott as a facilities manager. Sattelmayer ran the company’s food-service operations on college campuses. “We reinvented campus food service,” he says. “College cafeterias are completely different from the way they were 20 years ago. Now you have things like pizza stations and pasta stations.”
Marriott expanded into hospital cafeterias, then into other areas of hospitals such as maintenance when such functions began being outsourced. Then, the company branched into senior housing and applied its concepts of attentive customer service to senior residences. “I could see a future there,” Sattelmayer says. “So, I went back to school at night and got a master’s degree in project management. Marriott was a great training ground.”
Sattelmayer took his expertise in senior housing to a company called Horizon Bay, and while there, he put together a program called Eco Friends. It encouraged recycling, energy management, and sustainability awareness, and Horizon Bay became the first company in the senior-housing sector to get an Energy Star award from the EPA.
When Horizon Bay was bought out, though, Sattelmayer decided to go work for a company specializing in surgery centers. His job was to oversee facility operations, code compliance, project management, and construction, and the work pushed him to learn new skills and gain more expertise. “You’ve got to broaden your horizons to be in facilities management,” he says.
His next career move took him to a Fortune 500 real estate investment trust, where he decided his real love was senior housing. So, then he made the move to Enlivant. “What drew me to the company was that they were creating small, quaint, intimate communities where people actually know their neighbors,” Sattelmayer says. “Some companies have huge facilities where the seniors are kind of warehoused. We’re not like that.”
Sattelmayer and his team keep Enlivant’s approach from becoming stale by trying new things whenever possible. “While you do have to follow some procedures in senior housing to provide a safe environment and nutritious food, you don’t have to standardize everything,” he says. “We experiment with different things—foods and activities, for example—to see how the seniors respond. Not everything works, but we figure you’re never too old to try something new.”
Sattelmayer’s responsibilities at Enlivant include overseeing maintenance, housekeeping, procurement, and food service for the company’s communities across the country. “We get a lot of feedback from the residents, the executive directors, our marketing people,” he says. “We’re constantly soliciting input. During staff meetings, we share solutions to problems and learn from each other. If one person describes a solution that worked, others often realize that the same solution could work for them, too.”
In carrying out his procurement duties, Sattelmayer treats his vendors as partners. “By doing that, I get better vendor relationships and better pricing, which is better for our seniors,” he says. As an example, he cites the work his vendors did after a bad fire damaged Enlivant’s facility in Canby, Indiana. “Belfor, our restoration company, did a great job cleaning up the site, Branch Construction did the renovations, Indiana Carpet One Floor & Home handled the flooring, and Direct Supply did the interior design,” he says. “They made it very special for the returning residents. From start to finish, our partner vendors had the facility ready for the residents to return to in just three months!”
Sattelmayer attributes much of Enlivant’s success to its employees. Staff members who demonstrate the company’s core values—compassion, excellence, humility, fun, and integrity—receive “missions,” “visions,” and “values” cards that thank and encourage them to continue their good work. “We’ve done a great job of hiring the right people for the right positions and giving them the tools they need to manage their responsibilities,” Sattelmayer says. “None of this excellent work could be accomplished without the dedicated team members who work directly with our residents.”
As part of his job, Sattelmayer travels to the company’s many facilities around the country, and he stresses the importance of face-to-face communication with residents and says it’s a reward to see their smiles. On a recent trip to one facility, he came across a group of seniors who were still awake and engaging in a new tradition at an unusual hour. “They had formed their own little singing group that gets together every night,” Sattelmayer says. “Seeing that made me happy.”