$15 million rest-home welcomed

Summerset chief executive Julian Cook at Summerset at Bishopscourt retirement village in Dunedin...
Summerset chief executive Julian Cook at Summerset at Bishopscourt retirement village in Dunedin yesterday. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
The biggest challenge for retirement village and aged care operator Summerset is not finding customers but keeping up with demand.

While the dual-listed company wanted to continue to grow, it did not want to grow too fast and compromise quality, so it was about striking the right balance, chief executive Julian Cook said.

Mr Cook was in Dunedin yesterday for the official opening of the $15 million Village Centre at its Summerset at Bishopscourt retirement village in Shetland St.

The Village Centre features a cafe, resident bar and social areas, hairdressing salon, exercise room, library and IT suite, all-weather bowling green and indoor spa pool.

It also houses the village's 41-bed care centre, and 20 care apartments, where residents could receive DHB-certified rest-home-level care in their own homes.

During the two-year construction of the village, about 200 people had been employed on site and it had injected $40 million into the local economy, he said.

Previously the company's chief financial officer, Mr Cook was announced as Norah Barlow's successor in August last year and assumed the position in April.

He was enjoying the role, saying it was a great business with a really good team, and also a fantastic industry to be involved with.

One of the youngest chief executives of NZX-listed companies, Mr Cook (39) has an interesting background, with degrees in Latin, chemistry and finance.

He spent 11 years at Macquarie Bank before he decided he had enough of the banking industry and wanted to ''do something real and make a difference'', he said.

''Here, you see the people involved. You also get to see these villages built and occupied and that's quite a good feeling. That's pretty cool.''

Macquarie Bank's involvement with Summerset dated back to 2005 and he got to know Mrs Barlow and other staff, had been around the villages and done work in the retirement sector.

He joined the company in 2010 as chief financial officer, with responsibility for the finance, funding, legal and IT teams.

At that stage, he had no ambition to be chief executive but, the more time he spent there, the more he loved the business and was keen to do something wider than being CFO.

Mrs Barlow, who led the company for 12 years, remained as a director on the Summerset board. While the pair were very different, during discussions, they always agreed on where the business should be going, Mr Cook said.

Summerset was still a very young company - its first village opened in 1997 - and there was still ''a huge amount to do''.

Demand was ''everywhere'' - in the country and the company would follow that demand. It was a huge growth sector.

As well as the challenges of growing the business, they also wanted to ''do everything right'' and, with each village, they tried to make it a little bit better.

Summerset would build about 250 retirement units this year, rising to 300 retirement units in 2015. It has 18 villages throughout the country.

It was going through the consenting process for two sites in Christchurch, in Casebrook and Wigram. Both would be large villages with 200 units and between 50 and 80 care beds.

Connection with residents was important and Mr Cook had started spending a day in each village every year.

While giving residents an update on the company, he could hear what was happening in their lives, hear the good things about Summerset and also learn what they could be doing better.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said Summerset's new building was ''an investment in Dunedin, its people and its economy''.


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