Pharmpreneur of the week Akil Dhirani: "Wanting to pay it forward is what continues to drive me."

The challenges from third party payors and governments are probably some of the biggest challenges we face as entrepreneurs. Pharmacy is a low-hanging fruit and whenever there are any budgetary cutbacks, we are easy pickings.
Akil Dhirani


Education: B.Sc. Pharm from the University of Houston, College of Pharmacy.


Principal of Dhirani Group of Pharmacies operating under the Guardian/IDA banner. 

Current Chair of the National Advisory Council of the Retail Banner Group under Mckesson Canada.

What excites you the most about being an entrepreneur?

The thing that excites me the most about being an entrepreneur is the ability to help others grow at the same time as our organization grows. Nothing excites me more than to see a young student come to do their rotations with us and then potentially get hired by us. As the student graduates from pharmacy school, we would then try and offer them a position based on availability. Finally, we explore ownership opportunities with our new grads or celebrate them if they wish to look at a different career path.

How has your career path changed?

Since graduating from pharmacy school, my career path has evolved significantly on my way to being an entrepreneur. I started out as a staff pharmacist at Salvation Army Grace Hospital in Windsor, Ont. I moved on to become Director of Pharmacy after a couple years and finally went through difficult hospital amalgamations to becoming the Director of Pharmacy of the joint Hotel Dieu Grace Hospital. Looking back, I find these were my formative years where I earned my stripes and cut my teeth. Finally, in 1997, I parlayed this invaluable hospital experience and purchased our first pharmacy in Scarborough, Ont. This jump from hospital pharmacy management to community pharmacy had its own challenges, but having worked with a ton of people in the hospital gave me lots of confidence to deal with the obstacles along the way. I continued to grow our group of pharmacies and then finally joined the National Advisory Board of Drug Trading about 10 years ago in order to grow at a national level.

What has motivated you?

This continuous quest for further growth was the number one motivating force for me to give up the stability of an awesome management position at a hospital and start down the path of starting a business. Starting out as a staff pharmacist, then moving on to Director of Pharmacy, and finally managing two hospital inpatient pharmacies at an early stage of my career, I realized that I had hit a plateau early on. This was the key motivation that led me to move to community pharmacy and start the journey of being an entrepreneur. 

How do you define success?

My definition of success revolves around making a significant tangible contribution in the lives of the patients that we serve as well as the lives of our team members. During these last three years of the pandemic, it was extremely rewarding to be a part of a profession that did the heavy testing for Covid-19 in our pharmacies earlier on in the pandemic, bringing Covid-19 vaccines to lower socioeconomic areas and in general being there for our patients when they needed us the most. I always am of the belief that if we look after our patients to the best of our ability the rest of the equation will look after itself. Finally, nothing is more satisfying than witnessing the growth of our young core of pharmacists as they pursue the various opportunities for growth and being a small part of that unique individual journey.

What drives you?

Wanting to pay it forward is what continues to drive me. Pharmacy has been extremely good to me, so it only seems right to pave the way for the next wave of pharmacists. Having a daughter who has graduated pharmacy school from the University of Kent is another motivating factor. Finally, it is a great time to shine as a pharmacist with the expanded scope of practice. The fact that we can prescribe for 13 minor ailments in Ontario and the advent of pharmacy run walk-in clinics, etc. in Alberta and Nova Scotia makes for some great opportunities to look forward to.

What challenges are you facing?

The challenges from third party payors and governments are probably some of the biggest challenges we face as entrepreneurs. Pharmacy is a low-hanging fruit and whenever there are any budgetary cutbacks, we are easy pickings. It is definitely time for our profession to be proactive rather than reactive in order for us to thrive. It is definitely time for governments to recognize the value we bring to the table and compensate us accordingly.

What is your key takeaway from the pandemic?

One of the most important things that I have learned from Covid-19 - is the importance of a work-life balance. Working smarter by closely managing our hours of operation has been one of our initiatives. Sports is another way I balance things out. I play squash, golf and badminton, which all help keep things in perspective. Finally, I thoroughly enjoy helping newcomers settle down by finding employment, starting a business and assimilating. This has become a huge part of my life and has brought me a lot of satisfaction away from my work life.

What books have inspired you?

Some of the books I have enjoyed include Atomic Habits, 43 Lessons for Business/Life, and The Organized Mind.

What's your advice for would-be entrepreneurs?

My thoughts for entrepreneurs include doing your homework by building a team of professionals around you who would provide invaluable assistance before getting started. Lean on family and friends to seek help and guidance with the growing pains of starting a new business. Finally, find a banner program and a financial institution that meet your needs and use their expertise in order to get started.