Larry Minnix reflects on his seriously fun time as LeadingAge chief

To date, six Republicans officially have declared their intentions to run to be the next president of the United States, and two people have thrown their hats into the ring for the Democrats. With several others expected to announce their candidacy, it’s anyone’s guess who ultimately will end up on the final ballot and, subsequently, in the White House in 2017. One thing Larry Minnix knows for sure, however, is that he won’t be in an office two miles away when the next president begins his or her term.

Minnix started his tenure as president and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based LeadingAge as U.S. President George W. Bush was coming into office, and he has been in the role for the two terms that Bush’s successor, President Barack Obama, has occupied the Oval Office. With primaries, caucuses and elections looming for 2016, however, Minnix reckoned that the time had come to let someone else take the reins of the organization representing the interests of not-for-profit providers of care and aging services.

“I was really fortunate to start…on the front end of those administrations,” he tells Long-Term Living. “That’s when policy gets largely formulated and when you establish relationships with the key people. And I talked with the board leadership and I said, ‘You know, it would really make sense for LeadingAge to have somebody in place to help come up with what our positions are going to be for the upcoming presidential election and to start with the new White House and the new Congress like I did, so my successor doesn’t come in the middle of the movie.”

So Feb. 5, Minnix announced his retirement, which he expects to occur before the end of the year. Regardless of exactly when it happens, however, he plans to attend the organization’s annual meeting, set for Nov. 1 to 4 in Boston. “I told the board, ‘If you just give me 10 minutes to thank everybody, I’ll be pleased,’ ” he says.

What you may not know
about Larry Minnix

  • His undergraduate degree, from Emory University, is in psychology. During school, he worked in a psychiatric hospital. “I thoroughly enjoyed mental health work, and then that evolved into interest in seniors and the family issues surrounding seniors and the staff issues around good programs of service,” he says.
  • He holds a doctorate in ministry degree, also from Emory, and is an ordained minister with an extension appointment in the Methodist church. He has officiated at weddings and, more often, funerals. “The theological background and preparation actually gave me the academic grounding I needed around fundamental values. I think about that every day of my life. It’s what I would call a calling, and I think a lot of the people who serve in our field, from direct care people to members of boards of trustees, would tell you that they’re in this work because they feel called to be there. I believe that very strongly.”

43 years, 2 employers

Minnix has spent his entire 43-year career in aging services in two places: Wesley Woods and LeadingAge, which he joined when it was known as the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA). He served Wesley Woods, an aging services organization in Atlanta, for 28 years, having been hired out of an administrative internship there during his doctoral studies at Emory University and ending as CEO, a position he held for 10 years before joining AAHSA. (About that internship and subsequent time at Wesley Woods, he says: “I didn’t want to go because I thought working just strictly with seniors would be depressing and dull. I walked in and never had a dull day.”) Dec. 31, he will have been with LeadingAge for 15 years.

Over the years, Minnix says, “the field has changed from an institutional focus to a home-oriented focus and, therefore, our association needed to broaden its horizons from just home and services to something that was more aspirational and expressed the broader, emerging societal need.” The organization’s name change to reflect changes in the industry, he adds, was “one of the most satisfying experiences I have been involved in, to oversee the transformation of the way an organization sees itself.”

Points of pride

Minnix says he’s also especially proud of the year-long leadership development program that was begun during his tenure at LeadingAge. “We asked some of our leading CEOs what was the thing that kept them up at night, and I thought it would be too little money or too much regulation or too many lawyers or something like that,” he says. “But that wasn’t it at all. It was, where is the next generation of leaders coming from? So we looked at several ways to emphasize leadership development, created the academy, and by the time I retire, we will have somewhere between 350 to 400 people that have been through it, and a number of our states and members have developed similar kinds of leadership development programs.”

Other prominent initiatives during his time as president and CEO include continuing efforts related to quality, the financing of aging services, emerging housing and service delivery models, and technology. “We have been a leader in putting technology on the table through [the Center for Aging Services Technologies],” Minnix says.

Words of wisdom

To help him or her plan for and address future changes in the industry, Minnix has this advice for his successor: “Stay in touch with the members, love what they do, keep your ear close to the ground in Washington and don’t be afraid to lead,” adding: “Whoever is in this job needs to continue to advocate for the right policy for the right reasons and don’t be afraid to speak up about them.”

As for what the future holds for him personally, Minnix says that he and his wife want to enjoy retirement—including a new grandchild—while [we] are still fortunate enough to be able to get around and do some things we want to do.” They’ll be returning to their native Atlanta, although Minnix says he is so focused on leaving the organization in good hands that he hasn’t thought much about what specifically they’ll do once they get there.

“I want to walk out here at 6 or 6:15 like I do every day on the last day I’m here and call my wife and say, ‘I’m on the way home for dinner,’ ” he says. “Then we are going to take some time off, and then the biggest decision I want to make for a while is, when she wakes up, to say, ‘Do you want a waffle or an omelet, or do you want to go out for breakfast?’ And I want to set my alarm for 6:30 instead of 5:15. That’s how much deep, thoughtful planning I have done about retirement.”

Until he leaves what he describes as “the best job in the field,” Minnix says he will be enjoying the work of helping members meet the challenges they face. “What I tell our staff every day is, this is serious work,” he says. “We’d better have fun doing it.”

Related content:

Larry Minnix to retire as LeadingAge CEO

Larry Minnix discusses staffing issues facing the industry

Larry Minnix talks about providers expanding their service reach

Larry Minnix discusses the importance of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the Older Americans Act

Topics: Advocacy , Articles , Executive Leadership , Medicare/Medicaid