LEADING QUESTIONS: Mainstreet CEO masters efficiency

Welcome to the latest installment of “Leading Questions: Wisdom from the Corner Office,” in which IBJ sits down with central Indiana’s top bosses to talk about the habits that lead to success.

Paul Ezekiel “Zeke” Turner started an experiment about a month ago that would trigger palm sweat and panic attacks in other executives. He removed the e-mail function from his smart phone.

“I told people that if they wanted to get ahold of me to call me,” Turner said.

He now only checks e-mail twice a day. An assistant prioritizes the e-mail so he knows where to focus his attention. “And ultimately what that has done is drive efficiency really high in the way that I run my daily life,” he said.

The 35-year-old CEO of Cicero-based Mainstreet Property Group and affiliated public company HealthLease Properties REIT takes pride in forging his own path and then disrupting the process to find an even better course of action.

After growing up in Indiana, he earned a basketball scholarship to Westmont College in oceanside Santa Barbara, Calif.—only to leave after his freshman year to attend Upland-based Taylor University back home. After graduation, he landed a dream gig as an investment banker on Wall Street with Salomon Smith Barney—only to return to Indiana a couple of years later with plans to start his own private equity firm.

“My goal going into Wall Street was not to make a career out of being an investment banker,” he said. “My goal was to learn as much as possible in a compressed period of time that I could take with me to something else.”

Turner also developed a skill for adapting on the fly. When his plans for a private equity firm didn’t pan out—“I had absolutely no idea what I was doing,” he admits—he kept looking for other opportunities. He landed on the idea of investing in senior-care health facilities, i.e. nursing homes, and then generating revenue by leasing them to operators.

He founded Mainstreet in 2004 and went about acquiring properties. And after five years, he took a hard look at the firm’s portfolio and decided to upend the strategy.

“We took stock of what we owned and found it to be just the industry average,” he said, meaning decades-old properties that had grown stale in the market. “The consumer doesn’t want that product. “So I asked, ‘Do we want to innovate and do something different?’

“We ultimately redesigned the nursing home from the ground up and moved to a period where we did nothing but new development of skilled nursing facilities.”

In 2012, Mainstreet executives packaged its portfolio and went public with HealthLease, a real estate investment trust listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Among other benefits, the move to the public markets eased access to capital for new projects.

“For whatever reason, right or wrong, a public company gives you an immense amount of credibility,” Turner said. “So when we go to banks now, they understand that we have both this public company and the private company. There is a much better sense of stability in the system, so the financing piece has actually become an opportunity for us rather than a hindrance.”

Mainstreet, the largest shareholder in HealthLease, develops properties for the REIT’s portfolio. HealthLease, which posted revenue of $25 million in 2012, holds 15 facilities in the U.S. and Canada. Mainstreet has $200 million in projects under construction.

“It’s a steep growth curve,” Turner said.

His family also is in an intense growth cycle. He and his wife, Milissa, have five children between the ages of 7 and 1, with a sixth due in June. Time at home is the top priority, and Turner has developed a number of strategies to keep his work week below 40 hours.

In addition to limiting his exposure to the time-sucking process of handling e-mail as it arrives, he has dedicated himself to staying on his feet while at work. That includes ditching his traditional sit-down desk and working from a standing position in front of his laptop. Turner shares five tips in total in the video featured at top.

In the video directly below, Turner discusses the risky process of taking HealthLease public and the resistance it initially encountered from the market. “Investment banks only want to sell what people have already done; they don’t really want anything innovative and new,” he said.
In the video at bottom, Turner expands on how he views his role as CEO. He takes a counter-intuitive approach in some instances, encouraging employees to maximize their strengths and not worry so much about fixing weaknesses or becoming more well-rounded.

“I tend to see the world from somewhat of a sideways view,” Turner said. “I want to innovate, I want to do things differently than how other people do them. I want to come at it from a different angle and say, ‘Just because everyone does it one way, is that the right way to do it? Is that the best way to do it?’”


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