MN Tech Mag | Spring/Summer 2023


What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career? I might avoid the question a bit. I could list many things that I feel good about, but they weren’t things that I did; they were things that I helped other people or teams of people accomplish. None of us at any level of an organization get things done single-handedly. If I feel like I have some sort of skill, it’s building teams and helping them accomplish goals. Who are some of your biggest influencers? There’s no one person I wanted to emulate, but I take a little bit of something from many different people I encountered throughout my career. I have been extremely fortunate to work with – and learn from – many great leaders. Without sounding too sappy, I learned from my parents that everybody, regardless of what they do on a day-to-day basis, has the same level of importance and deserves the same level of respect. I watched how they treated people growing up, and it helped me learn how to interact with others and build positive relationships. THOUGHTS ON THE HEALTHCARE INDUSTRY What has changed in the healthcare industry during your career? In some ways, everything has changed, but in other ways, nothing has changed. In no priority order, the things that come to mind for me include: Expectations. When I started in healthcare, HMOs were a new concept, and first-dollar coverage and dollar-fifty co-pays started to absolve the consumer of financial responsibility. We created the expectation that consumers shouldn’t have to pay for anything. My grandparents’ generation tolerated infirmities more than we do today. The expectation now is that people will live to a very old age with no limitations whatsoever. Cost Structure. Pharmacy costs were about 3-4% when I started, but today it rivals in-patient costs. That’s a huge challenge and a component of health care spend that few people fully understand. Community. At the start of my career, I appreciated the healthcare community’s commitment to the local market. Leaders of local healthcare organizations held each other accountable and had an unwritten code of behavior with equal amounts of collaboration and competition. It’s not totally gone today, but it’s certainly lessened with intense competition.

YOUR PERSEPCTIVE ON RETIREMENT How did you know it was time to retire?

Ultimately, you reach a certain point in life and realize that more of it is behind versus ahead of you. I want to spend more time with my wife, Barb, our two wonderful children, and three grandchildren (with another on the way!). I’m excited about the freedom but hope to stay connected and use what I’ve learned from my career to help people going forward. What are you most looking forward to in retirement? I look forward to seeing family and traveling! My daughter Sarah and her family live in Tennessee, and my son John and his family just moved back to Minnesota from New York. I’m excited to reschedule the African safari trip we had to cancel during the pandemic. Greece is on my list internationally, and there are a number of places I’d like to visit domestically, namely Hawaii. There will be no shortage of fun ways to spend my time!

Q+A Jim Eppel

Former EVP & Chief Administrative Officer HEALTHPARTNERS

YOUR CAREER IN HEALTHCARE What inspired you to get into healthcare initially?

How would you describe your career trajectory? Sheryl Strandberg shared the analogy that your career is a jungle gym, not a ladder. That’s been particularly true for me – I took advantage of opportunities presented to me even if it wasn’t a step up. Sometimes you have to go across or down or over to get where you ultimately want to be. Anytime I took a new role, it was typically because my job had moved to “maintain mode” or I realized I didn’t agree with the organization’s direction or leadership at a given point in time. I’m super lucky because opportunities kept presenting themselves; it sounded good, so I did it. None of us at any level of an organization get things done single-handedly. “

I wish I could say I knew in grade school that I wanted to get into healthcare, but it in reality, it was totally accidental. I was a public accounting major and worked for Peat Marwick and Mitchell upon graduation from St. Thomas. A few months in, I decided it wasn’t for me and contacted Andcor, an executive search firm founded by Dennis Anderson. He recommended I talk to several people, including the Executive Director of Nicollet/Eitel Health Plan. I became the sixth employee of Nicollet/Eitel as the Director of Finance and Administration. It was vital to my career – I had an opportunity to touch every aspect of the business and see how it all came together. I have always been thankful for working in what was essentially an early integrated health care organization. It was a fortunate accidental occurrence.

28 | Q+A: Jim Eppel

Q+A: Jim Eppel | 29

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