The Evolution of Empowerpharm

Peter Billiaert, Co-Founder & President

As I sit at my desk and write these words on the evolution of EmpowerPharm and the construction of our plant in Burlington, I find myself reflecting on four decades of projects in the pharmaceutical industry and the people that have crossed my path. All the experience I gained on these past projects led to the design for the Burlington plant.

The journey began with my arrival in Canada in 1983 from Scotland. I was very fortunate to meet Leslie Dan and join his team in the fall of 1983 at Novopharm, 1290 Ellesmere Road, Scarborough (this site will appear again a few times in my story). It was only a few months into what would become 26 years of services with Novopharm/Teva that my first construction project came my way. We had to expand our R&D lab to allow us to begin development of products for the US market. I was thrilled to be asked to help with the design. We quickly outgrew this space and with the acquisition of the Hood Road facility in Markham we had the opportunity to build new R&D facilities at this location, which I was pleased to be a part of. In the summer of 1984 we moved to Hood Road. This is a key moment in the evolution of EmpowerPharm because in August of 1984 I would first meet Aubrey Dan. 

As Aubrey’s career at Novopharm advanced, so did my own. We grew together in this family environment and began to share ideas on growing Novopharm, sharing similar vision and values. We wanted to break down traditional silos and open communication channels that up to that point didn’t exist. We were the first to set up joint sales and R&D meetings to educate the sales team on what was in the pipeline, principles of development and why, and vice versa, to educate the R&D team on the needs of the salesforce team. The open communication concept never left us and led 30 years later to the newsletters you now read. 

During my 10-year stay at the Hood Road facility, we rapidly grew and numerous expansions took place that I was again fortunate to be a part of and eventually lead. In the late ‘80s, for one of these projects, I was first introduced to the Levine family of Architects, Allan and Jay Levine. This has been a relationship that has lasted close to three decades. Jay was the architect that worked with me on the expansion of Hood Road. It was during these growth days at Hood Road in the ‘80s that Tamas Szederkenyi and I crossed paths. I interviewed Tamas in 1988 and realized very quickly that he had to become part of our team. Jump forward 30 years to 2018, and the first person I knew would be key to EmpowerPharm’s success was Tamas who is today a key senior executive of our team leading all scientific and quality functions. 

In the early ‘90s, we opened our flagship head office at Markham Road and the 401 designed by the Levines, and I was a part of the team that did the due diligence on the purchase of the Stouffville facility, which would become one of the main manufacturing sites. In 1994 we once again relocated, taking our now very large R&D unit to Stouffville. This meant that I once again became a part of the design team for labs and a production area for our formulators at Novopharm Court. It was during this phase of my career that I met and hired Meseret Jimale. When we were establishing our Quality team for EmpowerPharm, Meseret was the first name on our list to head up our QA and Compliance team. It was also at this time that I met John Carter, who is now leading our formulation development for EmpowerPharm.

As the ‘90s progressed, so did my role in the company. I was exposed more to the business side of the operation—from the transfer of products into our North Carolina facility, global R&D project management, product evaluation and selection, to transforming and leading new product launches. This learning phase in my career was a stepping stone to the creation of EmpowerPharm. 

In the late ‘90s, I was promoted to Vice President and became responsible for the integration of Novopharm with Teva. In this role I became responsible for rationalizing our combined facilities, whether closing facilities (sadly, 1290 Ellesmere where my journey began in 1983 was one of the plants I closed), building new facilities, expanding facilities, decommissioning facilities or changing the product mix within a facility. During this phase in my career I was fortunate to continue to work with Jay Levine and first met Crossey Engineering on the design and construction of the Stouffville warehouse and manufacturing expansion. At this time, I was also responsible for the engineering group and had team members working for me, such as Andrew Eliot and Jim Hogan. They would become key players in the start-up of EmpowerPharm