Kindred CEO Ben Breier on company’s changes

Kindred CEO Ben Breier.
Kindred CEO Ben Breier.
Published: Jan. 25, 2019 at 10:07 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - One of the largest employers in WAVE Country, Kindred Healthcare, has gone through quite a transition. In his first television interview, CEO Ben Breier talked with WAVE 3 News Anchor Shannon Cogan on the changes for the company, and the challenges and opportunities they face.

Breier recalls clearly the day his 97-year old Grandmother fell and broke her neck.

“We got her into a rehabilitation hospital, and it really was the impetus if you will, around why we at Kindred entered into that space, because I liked it so much,” Breier said from the company’s headquarters in downtown Louisville.

Breier with his grandmother.
Breier with his grandmother.

Today his grandmother is 99-years old and healthy. Breier, named CEO in 2015, says Kindred is the healthiest it’s been in a while.

”We probably today have the strongest financial foundation that we have had in two decades around here and most of that is the result of going private,” he said. “One of the things I would say we’ve been very disruptive in the marketplace.”

As part of the same transaction that took Kindred private, the company sold off its home health business to a group that included Humana and private equity firms TPG and Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe. Today, Kindred’s focus is on becoming the largest specialty hospital and rehabilitation company in America.

“We probably either bought or sold somewhere to the tune of four to five billion dollars of businesses that we traded in or traded out of to wind up where we are today,” Breier said.

As a result, the "deal bats" (Louisville Sluggers, of course) instead of deal trophies are piling up in his office.

It also led to Business First giving Breier its’ 2018 Excellence in Leadership Award. Yoda, responsible for Breier’s favorite quote, would be proud. That quote is “Do or do not. There is no try.”

“It’s all about let’s get a result and not just try hard,” Breier says with a smile. “Sometimes trying hard is ok too. It’s a little of both.”

Kindred employs 50,000 people around the country, including 2,000 in Louisville.

"Louisville is a very competitive market for employee base. Particularly for employee base people in this information technology, finance, and accounting,” Breier said.

For that reason, Breier says the recent expansion of Kindred’s headquarters in downtown Louisville meant adding a gym, a Starbucks, a well clinic, and a game room.

"The millennial generation is looking for ways to feel more connected at their jobs,” Breier said.

There’s also a large theatre which allows Breier to talk to the employees all over the country.

“We do business in 48 states. If you look at our control room, I don’t know if it looks like WAVE 3 News,” Breier said.

Breier, who grew up in South Florida, says having the company headquarters in Louisville, has been advantageous for the company.

“We’re big fishes in a smallish pond. A smaller pond. And because of that our success is really important to the people who care and people who matter,” Breier said.

There are more than ten other companies also in Louisville, with a focus on aging as well. The CEO’s have formed a consortium to discuss pooling resources and helping to promote Louisville.

”I think we have a real opportunity here in Louisville to be what I would call, the epicenter of what I would call the aging and innovation center of America today,” Breier said.

He says if a company is looking to open a warehouse, or starting a business in this field, they will work to have Louisville considered.

The companies involved in the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council are: Kindred, Humana, Trilogy Health Services, Passport Health Plan, Norton Healthcare, Hosparus Health, Anthem, Apellis Pharmaceuticals, Signature Healthcare, Galen College of Nursing, Baptist Healthcare System, and PharMerica.

“When you think about Louisville and a place where we have bourbon and the Kentucky Derby and have all these interesting things. Healthcare and aging, in particular innovations around aging, is something that I think is really important to the city,” Breier said.

Breier said that people today live in an interesting time because many families, in addition to raising their own children (he and his wife have three daughters), are also caring for their parents and grandparents.

“What happens to somebody who after they’ve been stabilized in the hospital, they need some incremental level of care. What do they do? It’s not necessarily intrinsic in any of us,” Breier said.

He said that’s why the work done by Kindred is so important to him personally.

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