Not only is Philip J. Downey vice president with Marriott Senior Living Services, the fifth-largest senior housing owner and the fourth largest senior housing manager, but he also is stepping up to the plate as chairman of the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA). Continuum caught up with this busy executive for some one-on-one questions.

Continuum: Tell me a little about why you're involved in ASHA. Is there some tangible benefit that you get out of your ASHA membership?

Downey: Well there certainly is a corporate benefit. The primary mission of the organization really represents owner/operators, particularly with an emphasis on for-profits. So it's the organization whose agenda is probably closest to that of my employer, which is why I'm involved.

But also beyond that, on a personal note, it's a very gratifying group of folks to be involved with. It provides me and my company an opportunity to directly network with the chief executives and the leaders of other companies that are in our primary business.

Continuum: As chairman, do you have certain goals that you'd like to achieve over the next couple of years?

Downey: I do have some specific objectives. No. 1 is attempting to define the best strategy for us to get into the driver's seat as far as the whole question of how we want to be regulated. One of my goals is to keep our members in that debate and to attempt to use the influence of ASHA to establish a position and wield some influence that we think will give us a more positive regulatory environment as these things start to emerge. States are more and more looking to the industry organizations to be a voice for what they think is a positive approach toward regulations. If and when the issue emerges here in Washington, I think we can be in a position to be a positive voice for what the industry would like to see happen. I want us to be there at the table when that occurs.

Continuum: Turning to your work at Marriott, what are the strengths of the Marriott brand? And how are you trying to leverage that to build a national awareness for your senior housing communities?

Downey: The strength of the Marriott brand is high-quality service, and we think it also means good people, well-trained associates who are very attentive to the needs of residents and are very, very responsive and have a positive attitude to serve. And we think it's also value, that it's "you get what you pay for." We certainly, in Marriott Senior Living Services, are thrilled to have the equity of the Marriott brand behind all products. It took the company 70 years to build up that equity, and we think we deliver all the attributes in our communities that Marriott has come to stand for.

Continuum: Are you going to have a concerted effort to leverage out that brand when naming your communities and things of that nature?

Downey: We basically brand our communities with the Marriott brand name. We have an overall Marriott branding strategy - we are Marriott Senior Living Services. We also have distinct assisted living branded concepts that we are actively developing: Brighton Gardens by Marriott, Host by Marriott and Village Oaks by Marriott. Our plan is to establish the Brighton Gardens, Host and Village Oaks valued branded concepts.

It is our hope and our belief that at some point Brighton Gardens would also have some weight to it as a branding concept and will mean something in the mind of the customer.

It's not unlike the lodging brands. Consumers know the Courtyard brand has value, so someday the Brighton Garden brand will as well, as it becomes known and as people experience it in different markets through personal experiences.

Continuum: What's the growth strategy right now?

Downey: The growth strategy right now is: We're aggressively growing Brighton Gardens, we are going to start construction on 30 of those this year. We started construction of 25 last year. At year-end '97 we had 89 operating retirement communities. We've got a portfolio that's about 40% what we call "independent full-service." Right now our five-year plan is to get over 300 communities open roughly by year-end 2002, and we're confident that we can achieve that.

Continuum: Are you concerned about overbuilding?

Downey: We are concerned about overbuilding. We think that some markets certainly will be overbuilt, but we're confident that through our feasibility screening and market selection process we will continue to find good, high-quality sites and high-quality marketing opportunities for the next few years to come.