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Neurosurgeon’s new path takes him closer to his past

Doug Riffelo, Terry Bigsby and Michael Dan fine-tune a veneer lathe for Aspenware, a business on the Wabauskang First Nations Reserve.

Bernie Farber

The Donor: Michael Dan

The Gifts: Creating the Paloma Foundation and Gemini Power

The Reasons: To finance social programs around Toronto and business ventures in native communities.

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For years, Michael Dan struggled with his relationship with his father, Leslie, the founder of generic drug maker Novopharm Ltd.

"Most entrepreneurs believe they are great communicators, but their audience usually doesn't include children. Even their own," Dr. Dan recalled.

At first he followed a path far removed from Novopharm, becoming a neurosurgeon and moving to New Orleans. But Dr. Dan soon turned his attention to business. He earned an MBA degree and returned to Toronto in the mid-1990s to join his father at Novopharm. He lasted just four years and went back to the United States to resume neurosurgery in Ohio.

By then Novopharm was running into trouble and his father sold the family-owned business to Israel's Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., dividing the proceeds among Dr. Dan and other family co-owners.

The sale prompted Dr. Dan to come back home and completely change his life. He quit neurosurgery, sold the Teva shares he had received from the sale and created the Paloma Foundation in 2002 with $17-million.

He began donating money to charities around Toronto, handing out $7-million so far. That was just the beginning.

Dr. Dan joined the board of the Scarborough Hospital Foundation, sponsored training programs for youth shelters and helped develop a guide non-profit groups can use to evaluate their effectiveness.

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He also created Gemini Power, a hydro-electric venture that works with native communities. Gemini is financing construction of a $35-million power station along a river in northwestern Ontario and will eventually turn it over to the Lac LaCroix First Nation to operate. The plant will generate about $2-million in annual revenue for the community.

Dr. Dan is also working with Aspenware, which produces wood cutlery, on the potential of putting manufacturing plants on first nations reserves.

"I'm happier now than I've ever been," said Dr. Dan, 52, who works full-time on the many projects. "I feel like this is where I belong."

Even better is his relationship with is father, now 85 and an enthusiastic backer of Paloma and Gemini. "This has brought me much closer to my father," Dr. Dan said with a smile.

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About the Author
European Correspondent

Paul Waldie has been an award-winning journalist with The Globe and Mail for more than 10 years. He has won three National Newspaper Awards for business coverage and been nominated for a Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism. He has also won a Sports Media Canada award for sports writing and authored a best-selling biography of the McCain family. More

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