Care homes discussion with CEO of Groupe Maisons de Famille

September 2022: Julien Samson, recently appointed CEO of the European care homes group Groupe Maisons de Famille, has some creative ideas on how to manage the business. In the face of industry-wide criticism and concern following hard-hitting headlines about rivals Orpea and Korian, he still believes the industry can find ways to cope with the persistent pandemic, the energy crisis and inflationary recession.

Addressing the scandal gripping the sector in France due to Korean and Opea problems, Samson says GMDF has seen families moving their aged parents and grandparents from them to his group, and other providers. But unsurprisingly, he is more keen to focus on what GMDF can offer than the current woes of rival groups.

He is keen to place emphasis on the quality of care – something his large rivals have been criticised for: “My mission is for GMDF to provide responsible, ethical, innovative and quality care,” Samson says. “That’s the way to encourage older people and families to enter and stay in the homes.”

Groupe Maisons de Famille (GMDF) was formed in 2003 with two homes in France and revenue of €5 million, Samson says. Almost twenty years later, following acquisitions and organic expansion, some 12,000 employees work in 192 facilities in France, Germany, Italy and Spain and service around 18,000 and residents. GMDF is in the top 10 care home groups in Europe by revenue.

GMDF’s biggest division, under the brand name of Dorea Familie, is in Germany with 76 nursing homes and 19 senior and assisted living homes. Amavir, in Spain, has 41 nursing homes, La Villa in Italy services 39 nursing homes and two homes for those with mental conditions. Finally Maisons de Famille in France, controls 16 nursing homes, 3 assisted living and 1 rehabilitation clinic.

The business targets the top end of the market. “Our aim is to provide premium accommodation in pleasant locations with entertainment and outings,” he says. Doctors and specialised physical and mental therapists are available to support both the able and disabled. “We are continually seeking innovation technology to monitor patients with Alzheimer’s and other dementia and enhance operational efficiency. These patients, about 30% in most homes, are generally on monitored floors with specialised skilled staff on hand.”

GMDF’s financial backing

Other key factors that help GMDF’s care home business are steps to ensure that managers and staff are happy and loyal and will stay in the business for a long time, Samson says. They should be paid well and for this to happen, and there should be consistent adequate funding.

It helps to be financially secure. GMDF is in a fortunate position, he says. It has firm long-term support and funds from Association Familiale Mulliez the French dynasty worth multi-billions of euros. The Mulliez family finances the group via Creadev, its investment fund. This places GMDF at an advantage over those competitors that have fickle private equity or other owners, he tells HBI.

Shareholders sometimes leverage their businesses with a high level of debt and sell after a few years, adds Samson. Besides the financial risk (as happened with Four Seasons), the result could be managerial and staff disruption, he warns. The inevitable disruption could result in families withdrawing their aged parents from these homes. GMDF has the long-term financial backing to avoid those problems, he says.

A lateral management strategy following an unusual career

Casually dressed and engaging, the soft spoken, multilingual Samson has had a varied career. It has given him the experience to apply unusual lateral thinking to boost the business. A former French junior breaststroke swimming champion, Samson considered further sporting heights.

“But I came to realise that I would not be making it as a top-notch competitive swimmer,” he recalls. “Instead I decided that healthcare would give me chances to learn, change, contribute and connect with people”.

As he began his career, Samson became a civil servant advisor on healthcare, pensions, social reforms and policies for French president Nicolas Sarkozy and government ministers. Later, as deputy head of a Lyon academic medical centre he also lectured on health economics at the city’s Claude Bernard university. Prior to GMDF, Samson was a senior executive at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in France and South Korea.

Leadership roles at the London headquarters covered vaccines and respiratory drugs. As a member of GSK’s scientific research, development and investment boards he learned about supplies of potential new drugs and vaccines for the elderly and others.

Samson’s strategy to counter energy, staff and other inflation 

Questioned how GMDF care homes are coping with Covid, energy and food inflation, the shortage of staff and inevitable demands for higher wages, Samson explained that he was taking a left field option.

“Instead of cutting corners in the struggle to contain costs at the expense of service excellence, we are negotiating with the authorities for higher residence fees,” he says. Whether this will be successful remains to be seen. The difficulty is that subsidies from regional or local authorities vary from nation to nation. Indeed, at the time of our interview in September there are “intense discussions with German authorities”. Budgets for skilled staff and other care home requirements are presented in the hope that the authorities will bend and raise subsidies, he explains.

GMDF prices differ because of the variation in countries and in facilities.  The general care home market rates are around €770 a week in France, €700 a week in Germany, €630 in Italy and €385 in Spain, Samson estimates. Some analysts believe that payments could be a problem, but Samson is unfazed about private clients’ ability to pay.

The proviso is that they are satisfied with the service. “Quality first!” is his mantra, he says. The families and clients that enter the group’s homes tend to have adequate assets and pensions to cover the cost of premium accommodation. Moreover, the authorities also provide financial support to cover the cost of care.

Under Samson, management is both horizontal and vertical

GMDF headquarters are based in Courbevoie, Ile de France, north east of Paris.

To maintain good governance the board of directors and finance, audit, risks, compliance and human resources teams are centralised in Courbevoie, he says. But they need to be touch with the coal face, so they regularly visit the operating divisions. All four divisions, based in their respective nations, have autonomous founders or other CEOs backed by their own boards of directors and high ranked executives, adds Samson. The executives map out strategies and control the homes, which in turn also have their own management.

“Revenue is normalising after the disruption of Covid at around €620 million this year from €581 million in 2021 and €515 million in 2020,” Samson continues. “Prior to the unusual pandemic period, revenue grew from €279 million in 2018 and then jumped to €503 million in 2019 following the acquisition of Dorea in Germany.”

GMDF has a positive operational margin, Samson says, but he isn’t prepared to disclose EBITDA contending that the metric “is not a silver bullet”.  He prefers to concentrate on “quality of life at work for employees and quality of service for customers”.

© Copyright Neil Behrmann

First published in Healthcare Business International

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