David Fidler is the Vice President and General Manager of the Liquids Division at Aphena Pharmaceuticals in Easton.
EEDC: Tell us about Aphena?
David Fidler (DF): Aphena is a long-time established company, and it’s been in this location for two decades or so. But in more recent years, it’s developing into a pharmaceutical company what we call in the trade, CMO, a Contract Manufacturing Organization. And so, there are two main exciting things to me, personally. The first piece is you’re working in the pharmaceutical industry. You get to go home at night with tremendous satisfaction knowing you’ve made some necessary medicinal and drug products that help people, either by improving the quality of their life or, in the extreme case, saving their life.
EEDC: What about the future?
DF: That’s the other exciting part – the growth. We got a new CEO at the back end of 2018, and he has injected a tremendous amount of energy into the organization. He’s worked very closely with our board of directors and our private equity to get approval to spend a lot of money and invest in the organization. And we’re taking every single penny of that and investing in our future growth. It’s been tremendously successful. We’ve had a great end to the year in 2020, and we’ve got plans to grow our revenues this year by another 25%.
EEDC: This translates to jobs, right?
DF: Last year, we recruited a hundred people to come and work for us. I suspect we’re probably going to do another hundred people, if not by the end of this year, but certainly within the next 18 months or so. We’re fast becoming an organization in Easton that is, if it’s not already, one of the biggest employers. And, it’s bringing a lot of money and investment to the town of Easton.
Early in 2020, we bought the footprint of a company called Konsyl Pharmaceuticals. We purchased their facility, and we’re currently renovating it as a warehousing space. And by the beginning of Q2, we hope to be starting manufacturing in that facility as well. We have 26 acres, so we’ll continue to grow into that space. We have plenty of room to put another building in, and we’ll be looking at future expansion.
Those are the two really exciting things being in that pharmaceutical space, helping people, and the tremendous amount of growth, which creates many jobs. And hopefully, we’re making a dramatic difference to a lot of people’s lives.
EEDC: You mentioned that there are job openings at Aphena. How is that going?
DF: We have struggled with recruitment; Easton is a small town. We’ve been working with recruitment agencies to help us find people. I’ve had outreach with community leaders. I’ve met with Derek Daly from BAAM (Building African American Minds. We’ve reached out to community members here in Talbot County who represent the Veterans Association since several ex-military people live here. We’re in conversations with Chesapeake Community College and the people who run apprenticeship programs with high schools in the area, and also with people who run adult apprenticeship programs.
So, these are the activities that we’re doing to support the growth and bring in the talent and develop the skills we need to grow the company. Mostly, we’re working on the Aphena brand. We need people to know that we exist and, if they come and work here, understand that this is a tremendous opportunity.
We are also putting a banner at the end of Dover road, the street that we’re on. It will say something like ‘If you’re interested in a career at Aphena, call this number.’ It will be part of the outreach of spreading the word—anything we can do to bring in talent here. We’re happy to train people, and we’re happy to give them a career in pharmaceuticals.
EEDC: I’ve heard it said that the pharmaceutical industry is recession-proof. Would you agree with that?
DF: I was just talking about this with a colleague the other day. When things aren’t going well globally, the pharmaceutical industry is relatively resilient in those situations. I feel desperately sorry for those people in the restaurant business, hotel business, or airline industry because the slightest fluctuation in the world economy has a disproportionate effect on them. But the pharmaceutical industry tends to be relatively resilient. For one, Insurance companies cover most medications. Also, the pharmaceutical industry is always developing new medications for diseases that currently do not have treatments, and they need companies like Aphena to help them manufacture those drugs. That, to me, is another attraction of being in this business.
EEDC: How, if at all, is Aphena involved with the COVID pandemic solution?
DF: Well, we’ve seen an increase in sales of sanitization products. We’re also working with a couple of customers who are bringing treatments to people suffering from the symptoms of COVID. We’re supporting their applications to the FDA and supporting the materials they need to go into clinical trials.
EEDC: What would you say to people looking for a job but are nervous about COVID?
DF: We’re very supportive of people working from home. With the manufacturing folks that have to be here, we’ve taken a tremendous amount of precautions. We follow every CDC guideline very closely. Everybody wears a mask, and we socially distance, of course. We’ve put plexiglass dividers between people, and we’ve staggered the shifts and the lunches. So, everybody is not leaving and coming at the same time. We also have sanitizing stations around the organization.
This past week, we handed out COVID tests free of charge to every employee who wanted one. It was all paid for by Aphena, and it’s all in the interest of making sure everybody at this company knows we’re doing everything we can to stay and keep them safe.
EEDC: Have you always been in the pharmaceutical business?
DF: Yes, I’ve spent my entire 30 plus year career in the pharmaceutical space. I worked in pharmaceuticals in the UK. About 20 years ago, I moved to Maryland to work for a company that manufactured and developed pharmaceutical products and helped our customers file those products with the FDA. When those products were approved, we then commercially manufactured, packaged, and shipped them. So, I spent 16 years of my 30 plus year career there. In September 2019, Aphena recruited me to come work here in Easton and head up their growth objectives.
EEDC: Any last words?
DF: I’ve emphasized the two things that are really important to me: the great opportunity that Aphena is and the support we need from Easton and surrounding communities.
From a leadership point of view, we’ve done what we have to do. We’ve convinced our investors and our board of directors, and our private equity that there’s a great future at Aphena. We can make money, and we can be trusted to spend their money to invest in future growth. I just need great people to come and work for this company.