Abby Figueroa was two years into her entry-level job as an accountant at an energy holding company. The young finance grad sat surrounded by ledgers, invoices, spreadsheets, receipts, and bank statements. She analyzed data, KPIs, and metrics all day every day, and although she loved the math, she soon realized something was missing—the human element.
Life circumstances took Figueroa from New Mexico to Kentucky, and she took the opportunity to make a clean break and find something new. She started looking for the chance to apply her skills in a different, more people-focused industry. “Math is great, but I wanted to use math to help mission-driven people achieve more than pure business objectives,” she explains. “I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives.”
This decision was motivated in part by Figueroa’s parents. Her father came to the US from Mexico as a teenager and worked two jobs while going to night school to learn English. He followed his own passion by running an auto body repair shop. Her mother also attended night school to earn a nursing degree. “My parents showed me that you should be passionate about the work you do,” she says, “and that if you don’t have that passion, you should never stop looking for it.”
Figueroa found her passion in an unlikely place—the senior living industry. When she interviewed with Atria Senior Living—a top operator of independent, assisted, and supportive living communities with more than 430 sites in 45 states and 7 Canadian provinces—she noticed right away that something was different about Atria. Its leadership team really seemed to care about its residents and their families. To Atria, the forty-five thousand seniors it serves are more than just numbers or clients. They are valued members of a community who need a chance to contribute, live, and thrive in their new environment.
Math is great, but I wanted to use math to help mission-driven people achieve more than pure business objectives.”Abby Figueroa
It was a mission and vision Figueroa could get behind. She started as a staff accountant and quickly noticed how she could apply accounting and finance to not only support Atria’s communities from a business perspective but also give her colleagues the tools they needed to provide meaningful experiences and interactions for their residents.
Atria, Figueroa explains, has an entire program dedicated to helping its seniors find meaningful ways to live out the next phase of their lives. The Next Chapter initiative is a collaborative effort that brings in spokespeople like Billie Jean King who can help give Atria residents the opportunity to find and pursue new interests “with energy and optimism.” Figueroa has seen seniors discover talents in creative writing, music, watercolors, and other areas.
Figueroa was two years into her tenure with Atria and thriving when she found out that her own mother had developed some health problems. Figueroa needed to return to New Mexico to be with her family, and Atria supported her—and offered her a role as a community business director. The move took Figueroa out of the corporate office and into a community where she could work directly with residents and colleagues. She split her time evenly between managing the community’s finances and helping families, residents, and frontline employees.
Mentors later helped Figueroa step into roles of increasing responsibility and leadership, and with every step she took, her conviction that she was in the right place grew stronger. “Senior living may not be top of mind for many aspiring professionals, but once people are in this industry, they can’t imagine working anywhere else,” she says.
Figueroa has now been with Atria for fifteen years. She’s back in the company’s headquarters as the senior vice president of functional operations, in which role she helps provide strategic direction to create, implement, and support the programs that help Atria’s seniors “live their best lives.”
Along with her constant focus on supporting the residents of Atria’s various communities, the SVP has made workplace culture a priority. Each team Figueroa leads emphasizes diversity—and that goes beyond race, ethnicity, and age to include professional backgrounds. By uniting people from a variety of industries, she’s created teams that can approach things differently and help Atria stand out from its competitors. Those teams are working in turn to promote diversity and inclusion within each individual Atria facility.
Although Figueroa is back at Atria’s corporate headquarters, her favorite moments come when she gets the chance to visit a community and interact with its residents. When she sees seniors trying new experiences, meeting new people, and living a new life, she knows she’s in the right place. She’s making an impact, but that impact goes both ways. “It’s inspiring to watch our residents do what they do,” she says. “We’re here to serve them, but we’re learning from them too.”