Lessons in Leadership

Pat Mulloy

As a college freshman, Pat Mulloy spent one long semester at a Texas university too far from home before transferring to Vanderbilt. That move proved to be the start of a life-long Vanderbilt connection not only for Mulloy, but for his entire family.

His two younger brothers, Mark and Tim, followed him to Vanderbilt, earning their bachelor's degrees in 1976 and 1981 respectively. Mark also followed Mulloy to Vanderbilt Law School, earning his J.D. in 1980. Mulloy met his wife, then Francie Olsen, while both were Vanderbilt undergraduates. The couple married in May 1976, while Pat was earning his J.D. and Francie her M.S.; both finished their graduate degrees in 1977. Their daughter, Mollie, earned her bachelor's degree at Vanderbilt in 2005, and Mark's two daughters, Emily Mulloy Prather and Rachel Mulloy, earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees at Vanderbilt; Rachel earned her J.D. in 2010 and Emily an MBA at Owen in 2007. "We can have a Vanderbilt reunion just by having a holiday meal," Mulloy joked.

A stellar student, Mulloy had considered Vanderbilt before deciding, in what he recalls as a last-minute fit of rebellion, that he wanted to go to a college "far away from home." Almost immediately upon arriving in Texas, Mulloy realized that Vanderbilt would be a better fit, a feeling bolstered by the frequent, happy reports he received from several high school friends who had started Vanderbilt that fall. "They were having the time of their lives," Mulloy said, "and I felt like I was missing the experience." He summoned the resolve to call Morris Wray, then Vanderbilt's dean of admissions, to ask if he could transfer to Vanderbilt in January. To his relief, Wray's answer was yes.

Mulloy moved home to Louisville at Christmas and in January 1972, loaded his belongings into a Volkswagen Beetle and drove to Vanderbilt. "I went through rush that spring and didn't miss anything," he said. Mulloy joined the Sigma Nu fraternity, but defied any slacker stereotypes about fraternity boys by graduating Phi Beta Kappa in three years with an interdisciplinary bachelor's degree in history, economics and philosophy. To accomplish this feat, he spent one summer at Oxford University through the university exchange program and the next in summer school at Vanderbilt. During his senior year, he competed unsuccessfully for a Rhodes Scholarship, working with philosophy professor Don Sherburne on his application. After his graduation in August 1974, Mulloy took a one-week break before walking across campus to start law school as a Patrick Wilson Scholar.

Mulloy had driven himself hard as an undergraduate, and he thrived in law school, where he joined the Law Review as an executive articles editor. He points to his Patrick Wilson Scholarship as a key factor in making his law school experience one he looks back on as formative in many positive ways. "It was a fabulous program, and it still means a lot to me," he said. "It's one of the reasons I care so much about the law school. It gave me an instantaneous community of friends among Nashville's legal and business leaders I would never otherwise have met."

Mulloy also made "a set of close friends I have to this day" during law school. He and Chet Gerdts '78 met when Gerdts joined the Law Review's staff. Gerdts recalls that Mulloy's determination to maintain a lifelong tradition of never missing the annual running of the Kentucky Derby became the stuff of law school legend after he quietly slipped out of a Saturday corporate tax exam to watch the two-minute race on the television in the student lounge. "I'm a lifelong Kentuckian, and I can remember being annoyed to discover that this four-hour beast of an exam was scheduled on the same Saturday afternoon as the Derby," Mulloy confessed. The race was going off at 5 o'clock, and three-and-a-half hours into the exam, he began to eye the clock. "Pat was at the top of his class and took academics seriously," Gerdts recalled. "But five minutes before the race was to start, Pat walks out of the exam, goes down to the student lounge, watches the race, comes back and finishes. That was probably the only time that a Vanderbilt law student left an exam to watch a horse race on TV. In any four-hour exam, it's not unusual to have students slip out for a few minutes, but every student taking that test knew exactly why Pat was leaving."

Pat Mulloy's transition from corporate litigation to health care management may seem unusual, but he was actually well-suited for his new role by aptitude and experience.

Gerdts and Mulloy cemented their friendship by studying for the New York Bar exam together. Mulloy served a clerkship in New York following his second year, after which he planned to return to Louisville to practice law with his father, who founded his own firm. But a fellow Patrick Wilson Scholar, Bob Tuke '76, had joined Sullivan & Cromwell in New York and encouraged Mulloy to interview with his firm, which offered him a job. "At that time, Vanderbilt did not send many graduates to Wall Street, but I went to New York to join Sullivan & Cromwell," he said. A native New Yorker, Gerdts had returned home to join Donovan Leisure Newton & Irvine, and in 1978, he and Mulloy faced an onerous summer of preparing for the New York Bar exam. "Pat's hallmark is meticulous preparation; he was a terrific study partner," said Gerdts. "But he took preparation to a whole new level. On the day before the exam, Pat required me to take the subway route to the place where we were going to take the bar exam to make sure we knew where it was and exactly how long it would take us to get there." Gerdts and Mulloy arrived at the exam site well ahead of time on the appointed day; both are still members of the New York Bar.

Mulloy enjoyed his tenure in New York at Sullivan & Cromwell and made lasting professional relationships and friendships. But after a short time, family circumstances intervened, and he moved home to Louisville to join his father's law practice. Always fascinated with politics and government, Mulloy mounted an unsuccessful bid for a seat in the House of Representatives in 1984, running as a Democrat against the tide of President Ronald Reagan's reelection. Except for the campaign, he devoted himself to practicing law as his father's partner until 1992, when Kentucky Governor Brereton Jones asked him to serve in his cabinet as the state's secretary of finance. "I loved my law practice, but I've always had a passion for public policy," Mulloy said. "I enjoyed my time in state government very much." When he left the position at the end of Jones' term, he joined the corporate firm of Greenebaum Doll & McDonald, where he specialized in litigation.

Two years later, one of the firm's clients, a Louisville-based publicly traded healthcare company, acquired a large long-term care company. "Buried inside that company was a division that operated communities providing a service that was new at the time-assisted living," Mulloy said. "I was recruited to spin that division out to form a new company and serve as its CEO." Mulloy helped grow that company, Atria Communities, from 19 assisted living and dementia care communities to more than 60 communities. "I presided over the creation of Atria Communities as a publicly traded assisted living company in the early days of this industry in the late 1990s," he said. He headed the company for several years and then led the effort to sell Atria to an affiliate of Lazard Freres.

Shortly before the sale, Mulloy hired Gerdts to represent Atria in a critical legal matter in California that threatened the sale. "Pat, who is an accomplished trial lawyer, had to sit behind the bar and watch me try his case for him," Gerdts recalled. "The only rule he had was that we would have breakfast every morning so he could make suggestions." Atria's case prevailed, and the transaction closed.

While Mulloy's transition from corporate litigation to health care management may seem unusual, he was actually well-suited for his new role by aptitude and experience. As Kentucky's secretary of finance, he had put together a package of tax incentives to keep what was then Columbia Hospital Corporation, a major hospital company, headquartered in Louisville. Having spent a career advising corporate CEOs, he was drawn to the notion of running a business from the inside, rather than advising on the outside. Mulloy particularly liked running a business devoted to the care of the elderly, a need he knew would only increase as America's population continued to age. "In the mid-1990s, assisted living was a relatively new concept," he said. "The industry as we know it today did not exist, but the need was becoming evident for communities that serve people who don't need 24/7 nursing care, but do need help each day with activities of daily living, and for people with Alzheimer's and memory care issues who need a safe and stimulating environment."

After presiding over Atria's sale, Mulloy spent nearly four years as CEO of LifeTrust, another senior housing company backed by Morgan Stanley and Nashville-based Clayton Associates. He was recruited to head LifeTrust, which was headquartered in Nashville, by Clayton McWhorter, a former executive with Hospital Corporation of America, a pioneering for-profit hospital company, whom Mulloy considers a mentor. McWhorter's offer, which came in 2001, was extremely well-timed. While Mulloy had deep roots in Louisville and did not want to leave his hometown permanently, he was willing to commute to Nashville for at least four years because his daughter, Mollie, was starting her freshman year at Vanderbilt that fall. Under Mulloy's leadership, LifeTrust grew from 39 to 59 communities. In late 2004, Mulloy presided over LifeTrust's merger with publicly traded Five Star Quality Care. The following spring, Mollie graduated from Vanderbilt, and Mulloy returned to Louisville.

Mulloy next partnered with a Toronto-based group of private equity investors and Ventas, a publicly traded REIT, to create a new senior housing company, Senior Care Inc., in November 2006. Senior Care now owns and operates 72 assisted living, skilled nursing and rehabilitation, and dementia care communities in 15 states, and employs approximately 5,000 people, called associates, and Mulloy has settled happily into his role as its CEO. "I would not have predicted that this is where I would be at this stage in my career," he said, "but it's exactly where I want to be. I enjoy this industry, and I am passionate about building a great senior services company. It's a business you can be very proud of; we take care of 6,000 people each day, and we do our best to do it in a compassionate, respectful and honorable way. How we provide quality care for individuals at the end of life in the lowest cost setting is at the heart of the healthcare reform debate in which we currently are engaged."

“Vanderbilt is well-positioned for a bright future, but we need alumni to contribute their brains, time, and wealth and treasure. Building the fund-raising arm of the alumni base is an important priority, and I hope more alumni will get involved, and start, continue and increase their gifts.”

Mulloy's close friend, Gerdts, had made his own career transition in 2002 from a partnership at Orrick Herrington to become the general counsel at PriceWaterhouse-Coopers (PWC). Gerdts had joined PWC shortly after the demise of Enron and Arthur Anderson and the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. It was a particularly challenging time in the accounting profession, which Gerdts says only added to the attractiveness of the move. Each man found encouragement in the other's example.

At Vanderbilt Law School, Mulloy has long played a leadership role both as a contributor and an advisor. Although the Patrick Wilson Scholarship program ended in the 1980s, Mulloy and other Wilson Scholars worked together to fund the Patrick Wilson Scholars Scholarship, which provides a student with a full-tuition scholarship and stipend. Past recipients include 2005 graduate Kate (Komp) Tarbert, who clerked for Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. on the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010-11.

Mulloy's willingness to serve as president of the law school's Board of Advisors despite a professional schedule that most would find overwhelming does not surprise Gerdts. "There's a common perception that people who have accomplished as much as Pat must be singularly focused, and Pat works very hard and is very intense when he needs to be," Gerdts said. "But he has the ability to turn that off, and whatever he's doing—even if he's having a frustrating day on the golf course—he's almost always having fun. I don't think I've ever had a conversation with him in the past 30 years that didn't lapse into laughter after about five minutes."

Mulloy looks forward to leading the law school's Board of Advisors over the next two years because he believes "Vanderbilt is well-positioned for a bright future." He supported the building campaign under Dean Kent Syverud and cites the law school's "wonderful" building as well as the curricular advances made under Dean Ed Rubin as two important recent accomplishments, and he looks forward to tackling immediate and long-term challenges. "Our students receive an excellent legal education, but they face a daunting job market, and that's an immediate challenge," he said. "We also need our alumni to contribute their brains, time, wealth and treasure to the law school now. Building the fundraising arm of the alumni base is an important long-term priority, and I hope more alumni will get involved, and start, continue and increase their gifts."

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