The FORT Podcast: Joe Pohlen – Co-Founder of Cardinal Senior Living – Building a Better Future For Seniors in Assisted Living

Joe Pohlen is the Founder and Partner of Cardinal Senior Management, an assisted living company operating facilities in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

This is Joe’s second appearance on The Fort, if you’d like to hear round 1, you can do so here.

On this episode, Chris and Joe discuss:

➡️ Family dynamics and American culture towards how we treat our elders

➡️ Why assisted living has been in decline since 2017

➡️ Joe’s ideas to improve assisted living long term

➡️ Discussion on the current market and what he expects in the next few years

➡️ Cardinal’s recent sale and how they’ll structure the company differently going forward

Listen on:

Apple Podcasts


(00:04:54) Why is there a decline in care quality within Assisted Living?

(00:07:04) Why is the government trying to push people out of Nursing homes?

(00:09:46) Why is it so much harder for elderly people to be obese?

(00:11:16) Joe’s first day in Assisted Living – Showering the elderly

(00:18:45) Why are we seeing fewer people entering the industry?

(00:23:06) What can the everyday citizen person do to help our elderly population?

(00:26:58) How are your planning on leveraging Cardinal to radically change Assisted Living?

(00:46:16) How would you structure a long-term hold?

(00:52:50) Are there any national brands in this industry?

(00:54:03) How much scale do you need to justify a back-office?

(00:58:34) How would you begin to attack expenses and operational issues in the day-to-day?

(00:59:50) What happens when a tenant can’t pay rent?

(01:00:42) Are there any state or federal support options to help residents?

(01:01:46) Are there ways to design buildings in a more efficient way?

(01:03:20) Are people waiting longer to move into Assisted living?

(01:03:58) Are there any lingering effects of Covid?

(01:05:16) Why are you only in PA and MI?

(01:06:00) Are there any states you wouldn’t go into?

(01:08:45) Who is the ideal investor for Cardinal?


Episode Summary

In a riveting episode of Chris Powers’ esteemed podcast, the spotlight was cast on Joe Pohlen, a visionary entrepreneur who has carved a niche for himself in the intriguing world of real estate, with a specific focus on assisted living facilities. Pohlen, with his unique business model and a keen sense for industry trends, unravels the complexities and opportunities inherent in the sector.

Joe Pohlen stands at the helm of the Cardinal family business, which intriguingly intertwines the realms of real estate with the compassionate world of assisted living. His intricate model includes ownership of both the operating company and a management entity, a structure that offers a blend of strategic oversight and hands-on care.

Pohlen offers a compelling perspective on the benefits of holding onto assets over extended periods. Drawing from his vast experience, he elucidates that the real estate industry, particularly assisted living, thrives when stakeholders prioritize the long-term wellbeing of residents over short-term profits. The essence of this sector is the quality of care, which often overshadows the age or aesthetics of the facility. Interestingly, Pohlen notes that older buildings, enriched with a reputation for excellent care, can often command higher rates and occupancy than their newer counterparts.

A key highlight of the conversation revolves around the role of amenities in assisted living facilities. Contrary to popular belief, Pohlen emphasizes that these amenities cater not just to the residents but also play a pivotal role in enticing developers and investors. However, at the core, the primary concern remains the quality of care, emphasizing that residents and their families prioritize compassionate and effective care over peripheral features.

Pohlen’s success story is also a testament to the power of focus. He shares his strategic decision to channel all energies into Cardinal’s growth, shedding other ventures and commitments. Every decision, he elucidates, involves trade-offs. Prioritizing one endeavor might necessitate sidelining another, but the rewards of such focused efforts are often monumental.

When it comes to expanding his venture, Pohlen has a clear vision of the ideal investor. He seeks partners with a genuine long-term focus, those who can weather occasional industry storms without resorting to impulsive decisions. He expresses a fervent desire to collaborate with stakeholders who value the essence of a family business and are willing to commit to a shared vision for decades.

A significant portion of the podcast delves into the financial intricacies of Pohlen’s business model. Eschewing traditional revenue streams like acquisition fees, he derives his income from a salary, treating his venture primarily as an operating business rather than a pure real estate entity. For potential investors, he paints a picture of a model where returns are realized through distributions from cash flow, contingent on the operation’s scale.

In conclusion, Chris Powers’ podcast episode with Joe Pohlen offers an enlightening journey into the world of real estate and assisted living. Pohlen’s insights, drawn from years of hands-on experience and strategic acumen, present a roadmap for entrepreneurs and investors keen on navigating this vibrant sector. His emphasis on long-term vision, quality of care, and the importance of strategic focus underscore the dynamic opportunities within the industry. For avid followers of real estate trends and those with a penchant for compassionate entrepreneurship, this episode stands as a beacon of knowledge and inspiration.


The FORT Podcast with Chris Powers is a place where you can find meaningful conversations about entrepreneurship, real estate, investing, and more.

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