Making It

PICTURE OF HEALTH: Vikram Khanna coaches clients on getting and staying fit.
PICTURE OF HEALTH: Vikram Khanna coaches clients on getting and staying fit. (Copyright Keith Barraclough)
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By Elizabeth Chang
Sunday, August 10, 2008

VIKRAM KHANNA has made a career for himself preaching what he practices: maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

The 50-year-old New York native has long had a personal and professional interest in health and fitness. An avid cyclist, runner and weightlifter, he received a bachelor's degree in physical education and became a physician's assistant. He then moved to this region to get a master's in public health policy at Johns Hopkins University. After stints in the public and private realms, he opened his own managed care consulting practice. It was a profitable business; at its height, in the early 2000s, he made $350,000 to $400,000 a year. But a few years ago, he tired of the health policy debate, which he describes as "one industry trying to maximize reimbursement policy at the expense of another industry."

Vik, an Ellicott City resident, decided that he needed to create a new business and wanted to do "something that I really feel passionately about." That, he decided, was coaching other people to stay fit, especially middle-aged people who want to mitigate their risks of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, depression and diabetes. His wife, Teri Deutsch, whose background is in economics and who specializes in Medicare data, was willing to shoulder most of the family's financial burdens and draw down their savings as needed. "We're pretty financially conservative" and have saved a lot, Vik says.

Vik named the company Galileo Health Partners, after the scientist who popularized Copernicus's beliefs about Earth's orbit around the sun. He believes that he, too, is gifted at translating science -- in his case, into recommendations for improving his clients' health.

Vik started out working with individual clients who found him through word of mouth and presentations he gave at churches. The first full year of the business was tough; he grossed only $14,000 in 2006. But last year, he and Teri, who had joined him with her own Medicare-consulting division, grossed $135,000; this year, they hope to gross about $165,000, two-thirds from Vik's coaching business.

Vik has co-written a book on faith and fitness with Pastor Henry Brinton of Fairfax Presbyterian Church, published in March. In addition to working with individuals, he has two corporate clients: He is working for Freddie Mac to develop a health and fitness program for hurricane-displaced families in New Orleans, and he counsels employees of Baltimore Life at its home office in Owings Mills. The company's president, John Pearson, says Vik "meets with our associates regularly, keeps track of our progress and never stops encouraging us."

Vik advises clients to find a physical activity they enjoy enough to do reliably, shape their diet in a way that's consistent with their long-term goals and have an idea of how they will sustain these changes for that long term.

For his part, Vik is active six days a week and eats a Mediterranean diet. At this point, he is working 30 to 40 hours a week out of his home, which, he says, allows him quality time with his 4-year-old son, Jackson; he is planning to take on subcontractors as business grows. Although his job isn't as lucrative as his old one, it's much more satisfying, he says. "Making money is a lot of fun, but making people better is a total blast."

Are you succeeding with a new and unusual career, invention, business or creative endeavor? E-mail changb@washpost.com.


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