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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

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Selim, Jim (1941–2010)

by Malcolm Brown

Jim Selim was a self-made man. He arrived in Australia as a 25-year-old with a pharmacy degree and a keen commercial sense. In less than 20 years he built a tiny company, Pan Pharmaceuticals Ltd, with four employees, to a $500 million corporation with factories in four countries.

Hard-working and determined, he moved quickly when he saw Australians were falling in love with alternative medicines. But there were downsides: his reported ruthlessness, some difficulties with family and, ultimately, the catastrophe in 2003 when the Therapeutic Goods Administration ordered a mass recall of his company's products.

Born in Cairo in 1941, Selim graduated from Cairo University in 1965 and migrated to Australia the following year. He told Business Review Weekly: ''I had high ambition when I was a young man and always dreamed of setting up my own business, and decided Australia would help me best with my vision.''

He set up two Sydney pharmacies, specialising in complementary medicine, natural health and nutrition products, which had then taken his attention. In 1974, he established Pan Pharmaceuticals.

Selim worked ceaselessly, always hands-on. He had trouble with regulators. In 1976, he was suspended from pharmaceuticals manufacture for three months – a batch of paracetamol tablets made in 1973 had only two kilograms of analgesic when it should have had 30. Conventional pharmaceutical companies also were dismissive of the ''alternative'' products. Rivals complained that Selim was quick to get any new overseas product onto the Australian market without observing the caution they used. In 1996, a subsidiary, Pan Laboratories, was fined $280,000 for exporting unapproved therapeutic goods. The company denied this, won a retrial but went into liquidation before the new trial was held.

Yet Pan Pharmaceuticals grew to have more than 3000 product lines, supplying 75 per cent of the Australian market. Selim boasted his company had ''the largest product offering of its kind in the world''.

He provided finance and help to others wanting to set up their own businesses. However, some rivals claimed, he could be very harsh, threatening legal action for theft of intellectual property if staff wanted to set up in business elsewhere. In 2000, Pan Pharmaceuticals was floated on the stock exchange, offering 55 million shares at $1 a share. Selim retained a 53 per cent share.

Some events he could have done without, such as the jailing of his daughter Jacqueline in 1997 on a serious drug charge. During the trial, the court heard that, as she was growing up, she had suffered ''emotional and physical abuse from her father''.

Selim, married with three children, lived comfortably in a harbourfront home at Woolwich and, with an estimated worth of $210 million, was on BRW's list of Australia's 100 wealthiest people in 2002.

Vaughan Bullivant, a former rival in the vitamin business, once said Selim really believed in his products, was truly entrepreneurial and was ''a very genuine person and very religious''. In 2003, the TGA acted on complaints from 78 people who had taken one of Pan's products, Travacalm, an over-the-counter travel sickness pill. Complainants said they had suffered hallucinations and 19 had gone to hospital. The medication was found defective. The company blamed an analyst on its staff. But the TGA suspended Pan's manufacturing licence and recalled 1600 product lines. Selim said it was ''draconian, unwarranted and most unusual''.

In May 2003, Pan Pharmaceuticals went into voluntary liquidation, badly affecting many people in the trade.

The TGA charge was that Pan had substituted raw materials in its vitamin, mineral and herbal preparations. Selim was accused of ordering the destruction of a data base. In 2004, the TGA charged Selim with failing to reveal letters containing significant information to four board meetings. In 2005, the company pleaded guilty to 24 charges relating to defective products and was fined $3 million.

Selim regarded all this as far too heavy-handed. He took action against the Commonwealth for misfeasance of public office, seeking to recover $234 million. In 2007, in a third trial of Selim on the charge of destroying data, Justice Elizabeth Fullerton ordered the jury to acquit him. Selim's claim that the TGA had acted negligently and outside its statutory position was upheld.

In 2008 the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions withdrew all charges against Pan Pharmaceuticals. In the settlement, the Commonwealth paid Selim $50 million and $5 million in costs, dropping the charges against him relating to non-disclosure of the letters.

This year, now quite vindicated, he gave evidence in a class action by those affected by the Pan recall. The action was against the Commonwealth and five officers of the TGA. About 165 of Pan's former customers, creditors and sponsors took part in the action.

But Selim's health was suffering. He suffered a stroke and developed leukaemia, and he died on May 18.

Jim Selim is survived by his widow June, and children, Jonathon, Jacqueline and Janice.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Selim, Jim (1941–2010)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/selim-jim-16851/text28747, accessed 10 December 2022.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2022

Life Summary [details]

Birth

1941
Cairo, Egypt

Death

18 May, 2010 (aged ~ 69)
New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

stroke

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