Laura Lamb, who this month celebrates 30 years as an employee of Episcopal Retirement Services, knew early in her career that she might want to be the not-for-profit company’s Chief Executive Officer someday.
She achieved the CEO goal seven years ago and since has continued to mold ERS as a more person-centered and inclusive organization that not only offers high-quality premier retirement communities in Cincinnati and Louisville but also operates more than 30 affordable living communities in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana.
Laura Lamb, foreground, and the rest of ERS' Servant Leadership Team.
Laura started as an intern with ERS while working on her master’s degree through Xavier’s Hospital and Health Administration program in 1994. Then-CEO Doug Spitler was a great leader and mentor to Laura.
He fully supported her master’s thesis at Xavier. At a time when companies used command-and-control operation styles, Laura's thesis was about ways to create participatory team-based environments while still offering high quality, customer satisfaction, and financial results.
After her ERS internship ended, Doug hired her as his organizational development consultant because he wanted to move to a team-based environment.
“He allowed me to implement my master’s thesis here,” she said. “And then, as the joke goes, I was the intern that wouldn't leave.”
Various jobs through the years
Doug was a trusted mentor throughout her career. He recently reached out to congratulate her on 30 years, and they reminisced about that first interview.
She’s served several positions since then, including interim administrator of the former Deupree Health Center; six years as executive officer of hospitality services; four years as vice president of health and hospitality services; seven years as vice president of residential housing and healthcare; and 18 months as executive vice president; before she rose to president and CEO, following a nationwide search.
Her knowledge of the organization’s culture and her promise to continue it was a key factor that led to that choice. In fact, shortly after taking her position, she led a team that created ERS’ ‘Our Ways of Working’ statement, which guides all team members in their relationships with residents and each other.
Related: ERS' Our Ways of Working statement
Laura comes from a family of savvy women and strong businesswomen. After raising a family, her grandmother, Kitty Bradfield, started as a company’s clerk and became an executive who implemented the firm’s computerized cash registers across the Midwest.
Laura’s mother, Pati Payne, always valued older adults and included them in the family’s life. When she worked at the old Kroger store on Montgomery Road, if there were people who didn’t have someplace to go on Thanksgiving, they were invited to her family’s table.
Pati also worked with older adults as a nursing assistant, in dining services and housekeeping. The single mother would invite her two daughters to help at the nursing home so she could keep an eye on them while working. That also helped them learn the treasures of getting to know some of their elders.
Related blog: Our CEO has all the right ingredients
Pati also became a flight attendant after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and she managed ERS’ Dupree Meals On Wheels for ten years.
Laura, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology with a pre-med emphasis from the University of Cincinnati, planning to become a doctor, later realized she was more attuned to being an administrator who would work with older adults.
The best thing about her job, and her advice for others
What’s Laura’s favorite thing about being CEO?
“That’s easy,” she said. “I get to work with an amazing team at all levels of the organization. We care about our residents, and we care about one another. And specifically, as CEO, there's not a day that goes by that I don't see how our work collectively – and hopefully, some days individually – that we are positively impacting those that we serve and those we serve alongside. So, it's very rewarding. I love it.”
Megan Bradford. ERS' vice president of Middle Market and Ministry, and DD Farmer, household coordinator
at Deupree House/Deupree Cottages.
What advice does she have for people who want to grow within a company and shift from one role to another over time?
“My advice would be to work hard every day,” she said. “Be kind and give grace if you want the same in turn. Ask for help.”
About asking for help, she notes she has always been blessed with a mentor, including to this day. In fact, “I have several mentors that I go to, including some of our residents,” Laura said.
Early in Laura’s career, she hesitated to be vulnerable or admit what she didn’t know. “But with the help of others, I realized I am not expected to know everything. Instead, we need to surround ourselves with people who think and look differently than we do. Because that way, we will all learn and grow.” ERS has been a place for countless interns and team members to advance. “I encourage young professionals to look for an organization that demonstrates their desire to help team members grow.” A career in aging services is an excellent place to start, she said.