After Jewish Canadian Billionaire Owner’s Death, Succession Doubts Cloud Apotex Future

None of Barry Sherman’s four adult children interested in running Canadian drugmaker

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Honey and Barry Sherman, Chairman and CEO of Apotex Inc., are shown at the annual United Jewish Appeal (UJA) fundraiser in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, August 24, 2010.
Honey and Barry Sherman, Chairman and CEO of Apotex Inc., are shown at the annual United Jewish Appeal (UJA) fundraiser in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, August 24, 2010. Credit: The Globe and Mail/Janice Pinto/via REUTERS

Canadian pharmaceuticals billionaire Barry Sherman failed to implement a succession plan at his Apotex business before his death last week, two business associates told Reuters, potentially leaving it vulnerable to takeover approaches.

The bodies of Sherman, 75, and his wife Honey, 70, were found in their Toronto mansion last week and their deaths are under investigation by Toronto’s homicide squad. A memorial service was held Thursday.

Sherman had always resisted approaches from trade buyers and never wanted to take the generic drugmaker public, the associates said, preferring to keep control and not involve outside shareholders.

Despite stepping down as chief executive in 2012, the self-confessed workaholic continued to work seven-day weeks and 12-hour days. None of Sherman’s four children was interested in running the business and only one had worked at the company, the associates said. Sherman’s son Jonathon, who has a degree in industrial engineering from Columbia University, took at job at the firm after graduating but quit after less than a year.

In an email response, Apotex said it had implemented a succession plan when Sherman relinquished the CEO role, with vice chairman Jack Kay succeeding him in 2012 before Jeremy Desai took the helm in 2014. “From that point on until his tragic death, Dr. Sherman was no longer involved in day-to-day operations at Apotex, rather focused on some specific aspects of the business,” it said.

Sherman founded Apotex in 1974 and expanded it through a strategy of launching hundreds of lawsuits against competitors to overturn patent protection for their drugs. Apotex would then manufacture cheaper identical products that did not carry a brand name. The company now employs more than 10,000 worldwide with annual sales exceeding C$2 billion ($1.6 billion).

Barry Sherman posing for a photo earlier in his career at the family company he established in the 1970s, Apotex.Credit: Andrew Caballero-Reynold/AFP/Apotex

The associates said no formal sales process is under way. Any approach would come as the world’s biggest generic drug companies are grappling with declining drug prices and intensifying competition. Any potential buyer would also require an appetite for litigation, the associates said, since Apotex is regularly involved in legal actions over patents.

Israel’s Teva Pharmaceuticals, the world’s biggest maker of generic drugs, is currently in a legal dispute with Apotex over allegations a former Teva executive shared trade secrets with Apotex CEO Jeremy Desai. A Teva spokeswoman in Israel had no immediate comment when asked about any takeover plans or the status of its legal case against Apotex.