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Jack Kay: A long way from Redwood Avenue

By GERRY POSNER Jacob Moses Koslofsky has come a long distance in many ways. First of all, his parents, Zachary and Rae, had their name changed to Kay. Second, from the depths of the north end of Winnipeg, he ended up – after stops in Weyburn, Regina, and Montreal – in Toronto, where he has remained for over 40 years. And third, from a kid helping out in his father’s dry-cleaning business, he became a superstar in the generic pharmaceutical industry in Canada and abroad.
Jack grew up initially at 376 1/2 Redwood Avenue. Many readers may recall that some of the duplexes reflected the 1/2 as part of the address which, in the Kay family, was the upper part of the house. Jack walked to the Talmud Torah nearby and attended there until Grade 8. The family then moved up, both figuratively and literally, when they went north to Enniskillen Avenue. Jack had a year at the Talmud Torah on Matheson and a year of public school when the family moved to Regina. Jack was 16 when the big move west occurred as a result of an opportunity Jack’s father had in the laundry and dry cleaning business. The move to Regina also included Jack’s siblings, sister Charna and brother Iser. His older sister Bailah stayed in Winnipeg and later moved to Toronto.
Jack attended high school in Regina and later did a year at Regina College. Coming to Saskatchewan was in fact a return to where the family had started. Both Jack’s and Rae’s parents and grandparents, the Koslofskys and Levs (Rae’s surname), had roots in The Baron de Hirsch Colony. (Jack’s parents met there).
Jack’s family then moved a second time, this time to Weyburn. Jack worked with his father in the business there, also in a mental hospital located in the town… all of this by the age of 19. Jack sat out a year of school working as an attendant in the mental hospital and then enrolled in a three- year training program to become a psychiatric nurse. By 1961, Jack Kay was a Registered Psychiatric Nurse, having successfully passed the University of Saskatchewan exams.
After a couple years of work in that field, Jack was approached by a pharmaceutical company whose products were mainly in the psychiatric area, to become a sales representative for them. When he accepted their offer it meant a return to Winnipeg. Jack worked for six years, but soon he and a colleague and friend, Bill Lifchus, saw an opportunity. They started a company known as Sabra Pharmaceuticals. which really launched Jack into the area of pharmaceutical drugs
Four years later – in 1964, the business was sold to a company by the name of ICN Canada, located in Montreal. Payment came in the form of ICN shares plus a job with the company in Montreal. Once again, Jack picked up and moved with what were, by then, his wife and three children. He ended up working for ICN, which was a family business headed by Morris Goodman for seven years.
Life would have been comparatively easy for Jack had he stayed there, but Jack was approached by the Vice-President of Sales & Marketing of a new company called Apotex. headed by the late Barry Sherman, to see whether Jack might be a good fit for the business. Barry Sherman flew to Montreal to meet Jack Kay. Jack liked what he heard and, against the advice of Morris Goodman, accepted the offer to join Apotex in Toronto as Vice-President of Sales and Marketing. As they say, the rest is history.
Apotex in 1970 was a small operation, indeed far smaller than what Jack had left behind in Montreal with ICN. But Jack Kay was a very effective salesperson with what might be called impressive interpersonal skills. He and Barry Sherman built that business into the giant that it eventually became. Barry was the tech guy and possessed a gift in his ability to deal with patents, their validity and indeed, litigating about their validity. Yet with all of his strengths, Barry Sherman needed a guy like Jack Kay to make the sales. In fact, Jack could do what Barry could not. From a small company, Apotex grew to employ thousands, an accomplishment beyond Jack’s wildest dreams. When I asked someone in the pharmaceutical industry, a competitor in fact, who knew both Barry and Jack, his comment was that Barry never could have made Apotex the entity that it became without Jack Kay. In fact, Barry used to say about Jack Kay that Jack was the brother he never had. The two of them had their offices next to one another with a corridor separating them, so close that they used to yell at one another in Yiddish. Perhaps it was the “mamaloshen” that built Apotex, a business that has become dominant in the generic drug industry in Canada.
In 2017, as most readers likely recall, Barry and Honey Sherman were murdered in their home (in a case that remains unsolved.) Jack took over running the operation of the company, but one year later he was let go by one of the Sherman children. Jack is not exactly on the street though and, in fact, he is on the board of a couple other pharmaceutical start ups, including one with the legendary Aubrey Dan focused on the sale of drugs in the cannabis field designed to help with anxiety and depression.
His life is rather busy. In April 2017 Jack and Barry Sherman (eight months prior to his murder) were approached to assist with a project called “Neshama Hospice,” a palliative care residence with 10-12 beds and intended to be a place with Jewish values. They both agreed to donate a million dollars for the project and, with government support, the construction on that building is scheduled to start next year.
I asked Jack Kay if he thought that the murders of the Shermans would ever be solved and he said he doubted it. But, he did add this caveat.:Given the amount of money out there as a reward, it is possible that mouths might start to open.
The Jack Kay story is indeed a remarkable one given the modest beginnings to a star studded career and his role as an integral part of a large empire world renowned… all the way from Redwood Avenue. And Jack Kay has never forgotten from whence he came.

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