During his last year at Penn, a wart on his elbow led him to a faculty dermatologist, Albert Kligman, who inspired him to think of dermatology as a career. Still, medical school was a daunting expense until, “by a quirk of fate,” he ran into an old high school buddy who told him about a full scholarship for Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City that was available for Central High grads. Frost applied and won it, specializing in dermatology and doing research for two years at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland.
In 1965, through “a fortunate set of circumstances,” contacts led him to a job on the faculty at the University of Miami. By this time, he and Patricia had been married for two years. She took a job with the Florida Desegregation Center, helping integrate the public schools in Overtown. She envisioned both settling into an academic life. “I always imagined he’d be a professor.”
But Frost was bubbling with business ideas. “I had a minor invention ... it was a disposable instrument for taking biopsies from the skin. It’s still used all over the world, but it was of very little commercial importance. However, it was good enough to sell for a little money.”
Enjoying this taste of business, Frost found UM “constricting” for his entrepreneurial ambitions. In 1970, at age 34, he went to the Mount Sinai Medical Center on Miami Beach as head of the new department of dermatology.
His partner and fellow dermatologist, Nardo Zaias, says Frost was a dedicated doctor but was always looking for ways to make money: “His hobby is business.”
Frost used his money from the biopsy tool to buy a small dental company that used ultrasound to clean teeth — a product he learned about when he bumped into the owner at a party.
Then he met Mike Jaharis, a lawyer who was a New York executive with Abbott, a large drug maker, who was looking for new products. Frost was pitching the teeth cleaner and the biopsy tool. After several meetings, Frost urged Jaharis to join him in building a healthcare company.
“He’s a bright guy [and] a very good sweet-talker,” Jaharis says. “I was sick and tired of the bureaucracy of big companies.”
Their first deal was to take over a struggling drug maker, Key Pharmaceuticals. “I was at the airport on my way to New York, and I ran into a friend of mine from Philadelphia, from Central High School, who was the vice president of marketing for Key,” recalls Frost — another one of those “lucky” meetings.
Key was nearly bankrupt and looking for a rescue. In 1972, Frost-Jaharis took it over by exchanging stock in the small dental company. “There was no cash involved.” Frost, planning to continue as a dermatologist, decided he should be chairman of the board. Jaharis, who had the administrative experience, became chief executive, handling day-to-day operations’.
Jaharis says that they quickly realized that Key was in “a very rocky situation.” First, they needed money. They met Allen, the banker, for lunch at the Jockey Club to ask for an immediate $250,000 to meet payroll. “We’re on the hook and we won’t let you down,” Allen recalls the pair telling him. Allen, then working for First National of Miami, provided the loan.