“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,

Shall this day gentle the condition.” ~ Shakespeare’s “Henry V”

I have met many leaders, communal and political. But when I entered Jonathan Goodman’s office for our interview, I felt something special. It was in his eyes, his movements and in the way he spoke. This was a gentle, caring yet strong spirit for a community badly in need of such character. The character of leaders takes many forms. The aspects of that character that become paramount however, are determined by the challenges a leader must meet and by the quiver of experiences they carry with them. Leaders bring out of themselves what the temper of their times and the demands of their positions demand. Jonathan Goodman, the Chair of CJA’s 101st campaign, brings perhaps the most important quality we now need. Compassion wrought out of steel.

It is not that Jonathan does not have all the others. Grit. Piercing intelligence. And above all courage. And he has always had the generosity of spirit and commitment to community engagement that have helped so many even as he reached the pinnacle of success in his business endeavours. His father Morris Goodman, founder of Pharmascience Inc. Quebec’s largest life science employer, taught Jonathan and his siblings that it is all about “making a difference.” This was reinforced by his mother, Rosalind Goodman who repeatedly drilled into her children that “we are not put on this earth just to take up space but to make a difference.” As President Kennedy once put it, “To whom much is given from that much is required.” Jonathan has met that standard all his life. But there is more to him than just that. To use Philip Roth’s phrase, “Something Happened.” And that something has made the world of difference in the quality and depth of Jonathan Goodman’s leadership that he brings to CJA.

It is written in a Talmudic commentary that if you wish to see the reality and nobility of the human spirit, go to see those who are suffering. Jonathan Ross Goodman knows suffering. And that brings an added dimension to his commitment to relieving the suffering of the vulnerable and the put-upon in our community. For him, “gentling the condition” is not a beautiful Shakespearean turn of phrase. It is the prescription for our lives and the motto for his endeavours.

Jonathan is no stranger to life’s adversity. When completing his undergraduate degree at the London School of Economics, Jonathan was diagnosed with cancer. Jonathan’s life took an even more dramatic turn at the height of his business and communal success. While on a bike ride in August, 2011, with some company executives through the Laurentians, he was going downhill alone when, for a reason no one knows, he fell off his bike and landed on his helmet. Despite the protection, he suffered a massive concussion. He was in a coma for five weeks. Doctors told his wife he had a 10 per-cent chance of surviving. During that period he suffered septic shock, a pulmonary embolism, two heart attacks and partial paralysis. In our conversation he calls his sudden return “miraculous” because the doctors had long before exhausted medical options. “Where there is life, there is hope” was his mother’s favourite mantra during Jonathan’s life threatening challenge.

Jonathan knows the indominable possibilities of the human spirit and their abilities to overcome seemingly overwhelming physical odds. And he believes that it is a primordial responsibility of the communal initiative he now leads that it must provide the means to allow opportunities for the fullest flowering of individual possibilities even for the most vulnerable facing terrible odds. He was there. He knows the power of individual will. He wants that will sparked in everyone. To him, a helping hand is not a handout. It is a foundational responsibility for a just society from a just people. His is a special kind of compassion forged in the crucible of what Montaigne called “le feu sacré.” That holy fire in leaders can rally people to overcome the mightiest walls of despair and dismay.

And Jonathan knows that for him, as for many of us, overcoming is a daily process. It’s a journey not a destination. Though no aftereffects are obvious at first, he still has trouble swallowing dry foods and he uses his Blackberry for constant notes to supplement his short-term memory which was affected by his brain injury. Recuperation took a year and three hospitals, where he learned to walk, talk and swallow again. And he learned the power of the body and mind to adapt. He speaks freely and often about his recovery because he wants to inspire others facing similar adversity. He has overcome and is still overcoming. And he wants to make sure that the Jewish community, despite its demographic and political challenges, will be imbued with the sure knowledge that it too can overcome and adapt.

And how Jonathan has overcome in his professional life. He was always someone of great accomplishments. He obtained a B.A. with Great Distinction from McGill University and the London School of Economics with 1st Class Honours and holds an LL.B. and an M.B.A. from McGill University. His success with Paladin Labs, which he founded in 1995 at the age of 28, is the stuff of business legend. But what may be even more remarkable is that less than three years after his accident, Jonathan sold Paladin for just over $3 billion. Under his leadership, $1.50 invested in Paladin at its founding was worth $142 nineteen years later.

His current company, just under five years old, is Knight Therapeutics. It acquires marketing rights to specialty drugs in countries deemed too small to be worth the trouble for multinational drug makers. That’s basically every country outside of the United States, Europe, Japan and China. Canada accounts for 2 per cent of the global pharma market, according to government statistics. To gain access, drug makers have to win approval from Health Canada, then get pricing approval from another board and negotiate with each provincial government to determine what each will pay for the drugs. Even for a rubber-stamp approval of a drug cleared by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, reformatting the paperwork to Health Canada’s requirements costs upward of $500,000 (Canadian) and takes about six months. Companies then face about two more years to wend through the layers of bureaucracy. As someone who has been involved through my Institute for Public Affairs in getting critical drugs to those in need through Health Canada’s gruelling “humanitarian” exceptions section, this kind of company is sorely needed in this country. As Jonathan says he, “loves making money by overcoming bureaucracy and getting drugs to people who need them desperately. “ He wouldn’t say but I will. Knight’s success is helping the most vulnerable get life-saving and life-enhancing medicine when a heavy and often uncaring bureaucracy in this country simply doesn’t work. Knight is a textbook case of success rewarding noble purpose. It already has a market value of nearly $1.5 billion. And as Jonathan quipped with refreshing candour, “If Canada was efficient, I wouldn’t exist. “ Well, Canada isn’t, Jonathan is, and thankfully he succeeds.

Jonathan Goodman, CJA Chair, is most assuredly “the man for our season.” His purpose and his passion can gentle the condition for all.

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