CEO's challenge: Dealing with his weight

Irv Richter (left), chairman and CEO of Evesham-based Hill International, and Camden mayoral hopeful Amir Khan is pictured at the planned site of Acts Industries LLC on E. State and River Road in Camden on Oct. 14, 2013. (APRIL SAUL/Staff/File)

Talk to these CEOs long enough, and you can't help but be impressed with their hard work and discipline. Often, like Irvin Richter, the chairman and chief executive officer of Hill International Inc., they founded their companies and built them up to multi-million dollar enterprises. Richter grew up in the projects in New York -- and is now a millionaire many times over, having grown his construction consulting and project management firm to 4,000 employees worldwide.

Yet, for all his hard work and discipline, Richter can't stop eating. He jokes about the Irv Richter Dixie Cup, a half-gallon of ice cream. "I just can't lose it," he said. "I stopped smoking on a dime, but I can’t do it with food."

What’s your nemesis, I asked him during our Leadership Agenda interview published in Monday's Inquirer.

"Everything that tastes good," he said. Then he opened his credenza. It was packed with bags of candy (interestingly, stacked up against bottles of booze!). Jelly belly jelly beans, Mary Janes, caramels -- packages and packages, opened and unopened, mounded at least a foot. "For my grand kids," he said.

Yeah, right, I thought.

"Ice cream is a killer for me," he said. "I weigh myself in the morning and in the evening and it kills me. I'm constantly trying to lose weight."

Then the conversation took a surprising turn:

"I’m really annoyed with the government because they took Fen-phen off the market," he said. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration asked its manufacturer to remove it from the market in 1997 after problems were reported with valvular heart disease and pulmonary hypertension. Lawsuits ensued and Wyeth is still digging out from under the claims.

"Fen-phen [badly] affected only  a very limited amount of people and it caused them to have a problem with a heart valve," Richter said. "Give us a chance to make a decision. Let me decide -- do I want to be obese or do I want to have the possibility, a one-in-a-thousand chance of a value problem that you can fix. I'll sign a waiver.

"I was under 200 pounds at one point. All my friends were down under 200 pounds. They took it off the market and now we're all 240, 250 and 260.

"Now I’ve got diabetes, Type 2. I’m obese," he said. "Why should I have that so I don’t have a heart valve problem. I’d rather have the chance of a heart valve problem."

Click here for Monday's blog post.