Anthem Partners: Where Identities, Families, and Legacies Live and Thrive
At any gathering of deathcare professionals the term “acquisition” is sure to come up in conversation. Economic and political uncertainties, the challenges of the pandemic, and internal succession decisions are making acquisition a real option for more funeral homes and crematories than ever before. However, choosing the right acquisition partner isn’t always as easy as picking the highest bidder for your business.
Often, owners are just as (or even most) concerned about how their employees will be treated, how their families will be served, and how their legacy will be preserved. They want an acquirer who will listen to them and their team, get to know the community in which they operate, empower them to grow, and help them overcome obstacles. They want an acquirer like Anthem Partners.
Where legacy lives
“Our mantra at Anthem — and what we really believe — is that we are where legacy lives,” says Will Andrews, U.S. President at Anthem Partners. “When we speak to people about merging and partnerships, we want them to know the only thing changing is that they will have more support.”
It’s that simple philosophy that led Andrews to join Anthem Partners after 22 years with Batesville Casket Company.
“In my role with Batesville for many years, I saw a lot of ownership changes,” explains Andrews, who served Batesville as Divisional Vice President of Sales for the West Division and Canada until January 2021. “I found that the ownership changes that were most successful were the ones that were least disruptive.”
“Our goal is to leave the community-facing side of the business as-is,” he continues. “But in the back office, we’ll take over the things that most owners don’t typically like doing, like financials and accounting. We’re partnered with a world-class accounting company, and we’re also partnered with a world-class human resources company. We can come in with world-class benefits.”
Supporting success, improving lives
Andrews doesn’t hesitate to admit that no one knows their business and community better than the owners and employees. So when Anthem partners with an organization, one of their first priorities is to talk to the folks on location. It’s what Andrews refers to as a “listening tour.”
“I really listen to hear what’s working in the community, who are the top people in the organization, what’s working, and what’s not working,” he explains. “We want to talk to them about the challenges they’re facing and we listen to their ideas for overcoming them. We don’t like to come in and make changes ourselves; we like for our team to do that. We just ask, how can we support you, and how can we help you?”
Anthem Partners has completed three acquisitions since the company was organized in January 2021: Basham Shafter Funeral Care, Inc., Golden State Funeral Care, Inc., and Caring Funeral Service in central California; Speers Group of Companies in Canada; and, most recently, West Tennessee Funeral Associates.
Andrews’ experience with the teams in California validated his belief that empowerment, not financial gain, is the “leading indicator” of success.
“After working with the team in California for six months, we asked them to take the Great Places to Work survey,” Andrews shares. “We didn’t think we’d meet the criteria the first time taking the survey, but we hoped it would help us understand what we needed to do better. We got the Great Places to Work certification, which we were proud of, but more importantly, we found areas where we could improve our employees’ lives, help them in their jobs, and help them be better people within their communities.”
Anthem Partners may be one of the newest kids on the acquisition company block, but they’ve assembled a team of leaders with vast experience in deathcare. In addition to Andrews, Anthem’s executive team includes Canada President Jeff Christiansen, former Vice President of Operations at Speers Funeral and Cremation Services and Carscadden Funeral Chapels; Co-Founder and Vice-Chair Todd Lumbard, former Owner and CEO of the Speers Group of Companies; Executive Vice President Mark Shalz, former Regional Vice President of Operations for Park Lawn Corporation, and General Manager Eddie Peña, former President and CEO of Greenlawn Mortuaries and Cemeteries.
Unlike most of his co-leaders at Anthem, Andrews has never worked as a funeral director or embalmer — and he doesn’t pretend to know what it’s like to serve in that capacity.
“I’m not going in and our team’s not going in acting like we’re the experts in this area,” he says. “When we build out operating procedures, we want it to come from our people versus down from corporate. That’s really where we’re looking to be different — we want to have a flat organizational chart. We’re not looking to have this huge office full of people coming up with operational things. We’re building out that structure in California. We’re building out that structure in Tennessee.”
In addition to foregoing one-size-fits-all policies and procedures, Anthem Partners also strives to get rid of another all-too-common post-acquisition practice: The constant need to “call corporate” for approvals.
“That’s like nails on a chalkboard to me,” Andrews says. “We want our partners to be able to make decisions at the local level when at all possible. We want them to be empowered. We really stress the fact that we support them in taking care of the families they serve versus being a hindrance or being ‘red tape.’ I stress to our leaders that if they have a decision where they’d usually call their banker or attorney for a second opinion, that’s when they call us.”
Pride, trust, and care
Knowing they’ll still have autonomy to make local decisions can be a game-changer for owners evaluating acquisition partners. Another plus is the peace of mind that there’s virtually no indication within the community that an acquisition has occurred.
“We never want Anthem Partners to be a consumer- or family-facing brand,” Andrews explains. “We’re paying for the local funeral home’s name and what that name means in the community. We’re paying for the relationships they’ve built. We want to keep building those, and take them to the next level. Owners will never have to worry that someone at the grocery store or Walmart is going to ask them, ‘What’s going on at your funeral home?’”
Andrews and his team know that deciding to turn over ownership of a deathcare operation isn’t easy, and it’s not something to be entered into quickly or lightly.
“It’s very emotional to have something you’ve either built up or something your family built and go through the process of letting go of a piece of it,” Andrews acknowledges. “It’s a very unique process, and that’s something I take to heart as we go through this. There’s no real timetable from our standpoint. We would rather be on your timeline rather than pushing you from ours. I go back to our mantra of ‘Where Legacy Lives.’ We want it to be the right time for the people we’re partnering with.”
If you’re considering your succession management options, check out www.anthempartners.com or reach out to Will Andrews at Anthem Partners at firstname.lastname@example.org to start a conversation today.