Passion for People

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Penny Smith

Penny Smith found her calling thanks to an 80-something-year-old gentleman. He was alone in life and needed some extra care and attention at the residential community she was managing. And Smith discovered that she greatly enjoyed interacting with him.

At that point, she’d been focused on the demands of her current job, she recalls. “But in the back of my head I said that if I ever have an opportunity to take care of a community that deals with seniors, that’s what I want to do.”

She soon got that chance when an opening came up at a Boca Raton senior community run by Vi, a national retirement community developer, owner and manager. Nearly 30 years later, Smith is still with Vi, now serving as executive director of Vi at Bentley Village in Naples.

“I have loved every minute of it,” says Smith. “I tell people who are interested in this career path that we work too hard for you not to love what you do. You will know right away if you love it or you don’t, and if it’s anything but love, you should look for another career.”

Smith subscribes to a people-first approach, whether that’s related to her staff or the residents at her community. “My philosophy is I give,” she says. “I serve these residents; I serve these employees. I just want to make a difference for the people who work here and the people who live here, and I think that’s what drives me.” 

It’s a successful philosophy, based on the accolades bestowed both to Smith and her community. Vi at Bentley Village twice has been named best retirement community by readers of Gulfshore Business, and Smith recently received the 2019 Argentum Senior Living Community Leadership Award, an annual honor handed out by the nation’s largest senior-living association. But she knows these kinds of things aren’t possible without a strong team working alongside her. “I feel very fortunate to be able to coach people,” she says. “I invest in the people who work with me. When I spend time with people, I just want to help them do their job better. I believe that in almost every situation, if you can help people to do their job in a better way, that will make them successful.”

Over the years, Smith has learned what makes a good leader. “A leader really has to be resilient,” she says.

“They have to be flexible. They have to be able to adapt and stay calm in the storm. And they have to uphold the mission and core values of the company.”

For Smith and Vi at Bentley Village, that’s concepts like integrity and compassion. “When you filter what you do through those core values, it makes a difference,” she says. “I love the cliché of ‘be humble, be kind,’ because I think that really sums up so much of what I like to live by. I don’t feel that there’s any room for negativity; I try to turn everything into a positive.”

The ability to build relationships has been a big part of her career success, and she’s been continuing to do that since taking on the executive director role at Vi at Bentley Village three years ago. “It all starts one at a time,” she says. “And some that you think might be easy turn out to be difficult. Listening is such a big part of being able to be successful in my role. If you don’t have a relationship you can’t build trust. And trust and respect go hand-in-hand.”

Smith also knows that no matter how far she gets in her career, she’ll never stop finding ways to improve. “You don’t get the job and now you’re just going to do great,” she says. “You have to continue to develop yourself. You’ve got to constantly be learning.”


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