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the lunch

After brain injury, tenacious CEO builds new drug company Add to ...

On Aug. 17, 2011, everything changed for Jonathan Goodman.

The aggressive, hard driving executive – at the time the CEO of hugely successful drug distributor Paladin Labs Inc. – had just sealed one of Paladin’s biggest acquisitions ever. Taking a celebratory bicycle ride with fellow employees in the hills north of Montreal, he fell off his bike and hit his head. Despite wearing a helmet, the result was a serious brain injury.

Mr. Goodman, now 46, was in a coma for five weeks, had septic shock, a pulmonary embolism, heart attacks, and he contracted C. difficile, a hospital based-infection. His family worried he would die. He was in hospital for four months, and the struggle back to health took many more months of hard work and strenuous physical therapy. He had double vision, and had to re-learn how to walk and run.

Now, two-and-a-half years after the accident, Mr. Goodman is sitting across from me in a booth at Park Restaurant in Westmount, in the posh west end Montreal, deftly sampling his Bento box lunch special with chopsticks and exhibiting classic entrepreneurial enthusiasm for his latest venture. Since returning to work he has sold Paladin for $3-billion (netting him and his family $1-billion for their one-third share) and started a new drug distribution business called Knight Therapeutics. At first glance you’d never know he’s been through a near life-ending trauma.

But there are a few adjustments. He’s brought a sheaf of notes along to help with the occasional lapses in short-term memory. And he’s got his wife, Dana Caplan-Goodman, at his side, ready to give him a nudge if he starts to talk a little too candidly about his business – something he says he tends to do because his accident causes him to speak without a “filter.” Dana also fills me in on some of the details of the accident and its aftermath, since her husband of 10 years has no memory of it.

As we talk in the restaurant, which is a few blocks from their home and in the same building as the new Knight Therapeutics office, several people wave at the couple, or drop by the table to say hello. One man, who was on the bike ride with Mr. Goodman when the accident took place, tells him, “It is incredible to see you like this.”

“When people say, ‘Good to see you,’ I answer, ‘Good to be seen,’” Mr. Goodman tells me, turning back to our conversation.

He is happy to appear normal, but that is not entirely the reality.

“I am not 100 per cent. I will never be 100 per cent,” he says.

“I have two things that kind of linger and will be around forever and I will have to live with. One is memory issues, especially short-term memory, and the second is fatigue. I am always tired. I kind of feel like I just pulled an all-nighter for an exam. I feel that the moment I wake up until I go to bed.”

Although he can no longer ride a bike – his doctors tell him he could not withstand another head injury – he hits the gym almost every day to stay in shape.

He’s adopted what he calls “compensatory strategies” to deal with the memory issues. “I take crazy notes. I have my BlackBerry on me at all times. I write things down. I have to create a system to follow up and make sure I deliver what I promise.”

Still, he insists that his capacity to make business decisions is “perfectly intact and functioning at a high level … I think, intellectually, I’m as smart as I was.”

It is clear that what he calls his “type A plus” personality is fully intact. He is still competitive and massively self-confident, and he wants things his way.

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