Sitting behind a large desk in Chelsea Harbour, in west London, surrounded by his company’s various awards, Mike Parsons takes a straightforward view on care for the elderly: people are social beings who want to be surrounded by others. And his business, Barchester Healthcare, has the locations and the beds to accommodate them.
Care for the elderly needs to change, he insists. “It isn’t enough to have a social worker coming to see you twice a day for 20 minutes – you’ll end up institutionalised in your own home,” says Parsons. “Seven million people live on their own in this country. Most of them women, most of them aged. The social worker is often the only person they’ll see all day.”
There’s much research into the loneliness of the elderly to support his claims. “Most older people want to live in a social setting where they can enjoy activities, good food and the occasional glass of sherry in a pleasant environment. That’s what they’re looking for.”
Parsons is caustic about February’s “death tax” row, when the Conservatives chose to spotlight Labour’s ideas for a ten per cent tax on individual estates to pay for future elderly healthcare. “Labour, which has failed to engage in considered debate and has achieved nothing for the elderly in the lifetime of their government, now wants to rush through ill-considered legislation just as an election arises,” he says.
Wherever you stand on the arguments – and these issues stir up powerful emotions – Parsons is clearly on the residential care side. And Barchester Healthcare is a spectacularly successful business positioned in one of the most predictable growth sectors of the future: elderly healthcare.
So how did this former adman come to be king of the care homes?
Parsons set up his own ad agency, KHBB, in the early eighties, selling it to Saatchi & Saatchi in 1985, which he then joined as chief operating officer. A few years later, the entrepreneurial itch returned. “Towards the end, I got a bit fed up with advertising,” Parsons explains. “The industry had had its day, and I just wanted a complete change of direction.”
So he left the industry in 1990 to start a new career. He didn’t know what this would be – and certainly didn’t imagine that 20 years later he’d be heading a care home empire that makes more than £12m profit a year.
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