Soon-to-retire chairman of international engineering consulting company GHD, Des Whybird, sips ginger and lemon tea as he recounts the health regime that changed his life.

Initially Des went to West End clinic Back2Health for acupuncture on an injured achilles tendon and got talking. At the time he was a senior management executive with GHD and a combination of chronic bronchitis, stress and poor quality sleep was making the air travel required for his job almost impossible. His acupuncturist and practitioner of ayurvedic medicine, Jo Formosa, suggested he could improve his health with time by adhering to a number of natural therapies. Des says his 2002 decision to focus on his own health was crucial to the success of his corporate career. His treatment started with an intensive detox in which his wife Sharon joined him. Jo treated both the Whybirds individually but the daily health framework she suggested was something both could follow. Des recalls the steam box treatment and therapeutic massages that targeted the thoracic area for relief of asthma.

After a consultation with Jo, Des decided to go cold turkey on instant coffee, change his eating habits and under the guidance of Jo’s business partner, husband and fitness instructor, Nick Formosa, steadily increased exercise from gentle walking to more strenuous running. Typical of many driven executives who are used to reaching targets, results in the area of weight loss, improved quality of sleep and energy gain came quickly. “People, particularly those who saw me only once every 12 months, started to say I looked physically younger and my hair was becoming darker. I definitely had more energy to do the things I enjoyed,” Des, 59, says. His lifestyle changes, tailored to fit into his busy corporate schedule, were supplemented by a number of natural treatments including massage, with kati basti oil for whole spine rejuvenation, and shirodhara treatment — a form of ayurveda medicine that involves gently pouring oils over the centre of the forehead. The fact that his wife and three adult children supported Des’s health goals has been a fundamental part of his ongoing success.

Importantly Des and his family maintain regular visits to his general practitioner of 20 years. Jo explains that ayurveda, a system of traditional medicine native to India and thought to be between 3000 and 5000 years old, works well alongside western medicine. Ayurveda is a holistic practice that focuses on the preservation of health to prevent disease. “People still come to me because of Des’s success and ask: Can you do the same for me?” says Jo, who founded Back2Health nine years ago. “Every person is different and our treatments are tailored to fit within their lifestyle.”

Wherever he is in the world, Des starts each day with a cleansing cup of hot water — a routine he maintains by carrying a small portable electric jug in his hand luggage. It has been these simple adjustments to daily routines which were the easiest for Des to sustain, as he was promoted to Chief Executive Officer at GHD and then to Chairman in 2008. The company has grown five-fold since 2002 and the number of staff has increased from 1200 to 6500. “That’s a lot of people for leaders to stay in touch with in a company that prides itself on strong relationships.”

Just days off retirement, Des is contemplating a healthy future with family, voluntary roles with a couple of community organisations and invigorating his interest in thoroughbred horses. “But most of all I am retiring. I have just had a wonderful 38 years with GHD. Now I am looking forward to the next 38 years,” he says.

Words by Maria Ceresa  |  Images by Darlia Argyris