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Add your voice to the conversation

Mike Schulze – Executive Director, Berea Gardens Retirement Foundation, Port Alfred


A chartered accountant by profession, Mike Schulze served on the Berea Gardens Board of Directors for 6 years, as Financial Director, before taking over as full-time Executive Director 11 years ago. 55 years of age, Mike has no plans to move on. He is very happy in his position, has gelled with the ethos of the organisation, and feels he can still make a contribution in these times of change.

Berea Gardens was started almost 40 years ago, and Mike attributes to its success a number of factors: The initial concept was sound – offering services across a broad economic spectrum. The organisation has always had a strong Board of Directors with committed Directors with a range of professional skills. They have always kept a strong infrastructure, and they have focused on recruiting and keeping the right people in key positions.

Mike is of the opinion that the biggest challenge in the care industry over the next 5-10 years is financial sustainability. This is going to be huge because support from government will not improve and will likely worsen. Also, the constant challenge will be to stay relevant.

The greatest challenge for Berea Gardens for the last 18 months has been sustainability particularly with regard to the provision of frail care. Heavily reliant on nursing and care staff, the staff component makes up almost 70% of the frail care budget. Also, the sustainability of this unit is vulnerable to varying occupancy. “We are having to be creative in terms of the running of frail care, and optimising numbers of staff on different shifts, looking at different care options for people to access, enabling people to transfer their Life Right from a cottage to assisted living. We are also going through a test phase giving a person the option to pay a lump sum up front to guarantee a fixed price for frail care for life with no escalation.”


Berea Gardens does home-based care on an informal basis with social pensioners who cannot afford frail care. The ethos in the independent living units is that people don’t want to see “frail” people – the fact is that many older people do not want to face their own mortality.

Where people transfer their life right to assisted living, their levy increases but the value of their life right remains. They receive a percentage of the selling price on the eventual sale of their life right. Buying a life right is not a financial investment, it is buying a lifestyle. Families who are trying to protect their inheritances do not want to understand this.


Regarding succession planning in Berea Gardens, Mike believes they are doing some, but not enough. They are focused on growing human capital and try wherever possible to promote from within. They have a very low staff turnover, most staff are long-serving and loyal and committed to the organisation.

As a leader, Mike believes you need to lead from the front. Don’t expect anyone to do something you won’t do. “As a leader, I need to keep abreast of what’s happening in the industry, keep up with changes and stay one step ahead. The leader must inspire and motivate staff, and set the tone and ethos of the organisation. I need to walk my talk”. Mike believes his position is not a “job” but a “calling”.


Looking at the care sector as a whole, Mike said that when he started, there was huge competition and little collaboration. Today he says the focus is on collaboration. He is involved in BAPA which received a grant from Rotary International for carer training. The conversations he feels the care sector should be having go around legislation – a minefield! – it is important to keep up and keep abreast of critical aspects of legislation. We should be talking more and sharing ideas around organisations’ self-sustainability, and he would like to see another Care Forum Festival with international speakers to inspire our South African sector. He thinks it important to visit other homes and share and learn together. Berea Gardens informally helps an under-resourced home nearby.

Where does Mike find his enthusiasm and inspiration? From his faith, he says, which is most important to him. He has learned from many people, from his Board of Directors who are experts from many fields. He looks for value in everyone he has contact with. He looks for inspiration to small people doing small things that collectively make a huge difference.
He looks at small people doing small things that collectively make a huge difference.

When not involved at Berea Gardens, and to recharge his batteries, Mike goes birding. He loves the beach and spending time with his family, his wife and two children, a son and a daughter.
Thank you for your leadership in, and commitment to, the care sector Mike – the SACF salutes you!