Kenneth Eppich’s résumé reads like a who’s who of Fortune 1,000 companies, charting his rise from mid-management at General Mills to chief financial officer of Henkel of America -- a subsidiary of a $10 billion German industrial-chemical firm -- to treasurer of International Multifoods, the Minneapolis-based food-distribution company.
But now, the starched collars and blue suits are gone. These days, at 55, he’s an AIDS lecturer, counselor and activist who views his former career as a “how-not-to” manual. “I found Multifoods a stressful environment,” he says. “When I worked there, I had a migraine a week, and now I have none.”
Not that there weren’t more headaches -- and heartaches -- along the road to his current contentment. In 1990, Eppich lost his job at International Multifoods, and he was unemployed for two years before landing in the business end of a small holistic health care clinic. Shortly thereafter, his lover of 21 years was diagnosed with AIDS and died a few months later.
While nursing his lover, Eppich was unsure of his own HIV status. “I wasn’t thinking about me at that point,” he says. So it wasn’t until 1994, after developing a fever and night sweats, that he tested positive for HIV.
A businessman by training, Eppich looked at the bottom line: A CD4 count of eight. He knew it was time to take action. “My entire life had changed, and I couldn’t hold on to the past, even though it included a successful business career,” he says.
Eppich used the tools of his former trade to create his future. First, he assembled a financial plan that allowed him to retire. Then, with more than 20 years’ experience that included supervising a pool of pension-fund managers, Eppich invested in mutual funds by strategically choosing fund managers and evaluating long-term returns. That done, he turned to his emotional well-being, adapting the Management by Objectives business theory -- which monetarily rewards the accomplishment of goals -- to his inner life. The theory works on a pillar system, identifying columns of support such as family contact, volunteer work and spirituality. “The under- lying concept of having goals that are easily accomplished is psychological,” Eppich says. “With all those pillars, you end up with a lot of small successes.”
It works in business, and it’s working for Eppich: He hasn’t been sick since his initial illness. He is hesitant to credit any one part of his multi-faceted treatment regimen of acupuncture, exercise and a five-drug combo that includes AZT and saquinavir.
For a man with a head for numbers, it’s surprising that Eppich doesn’t want to know his, but he’s seen how an obsession with viral load and CD4 counts can adversely affect someone’s health and mood. “I don’t need to know if my viral load is 5,000, 55,000 or 155,000 because my doctor does, and he’ll change my meds as necessary,” Eppich says. “Besides, it won’t make a difference. I’m not betting my life on protease inhibitors. I’m betting my life on everything I’m doing.”