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The cannabis industry's list of c-suite shuffles and mass layoffs grows

While pressers about c-suite shuffles, title changes, and replacements aren’t always newsworthy, the first two months of 2020 have been especially tumultuous for the legal cannabis industry.

Two weeks ago (February 6), Aurora Cannabis announced the retirement of its founder Terry Booth, who had served as the company’s CEO for just shy of seven years. A day following the news, Booth told a BNN Bloomberg reporter the decision to leave the Edmonton-based licensed producer (LP) was unexpected, but added it was time for him to move on. The seat is temporarily being kept warm by Michael Singer, Aurora's executive chairman, and now interim CEO.

Although Booth’s departure sent shock waves throughout the industry, it was at the tail end of a slew of several leadership shuffles. Two days prior (February 4), WeedMD Inc. announced its CEO and director, Keith Merker, would be stepping down after six years with the company.

Navdeep Dhaliwal, CEO of the Supreme Cannabis Company, announced his sudden departure after just over a year with the company on January 6, leaving Colin Moore, director and former Starbucks Canada president, as interim president and CEO. Supreme didn’t publicize the reason for the decision and it remains unclear if Dhaliwal left on his own accord or was forced out.

The following week (January 14), Nanaimo-based LP Tilray Inc., announced two “strategic” additions, hiring former Revlon executive, Jon Levin, as chief operating officer (COO) and former Molson Coors and Pharmaca executive, Michael Kruteck as chief financial officer (CFO). In addition, Ontario’s TerrAscend Corp. replaced its CEO, Michael Nashat, with Jason Ackerman, the company’s executive chairman, at the end of January.

Several American producers also announced c-level transitions, including a replacement of the COO at Arizona’s Harvest Health & Recreation and the resignation of Adam Bierman, CEO of MedMen Enterprises, a publicly traded chain of dispensaries and delivery services, after calls for a change in leadership.

On January 30, Alberta-based LP Sundial Growers also announced numerous changes to its team as both its CEO, Torsten Kuenzlen, and its COO, Brian Harriman, resigned. The company’s executive chairman, Ted Hellard, also stepped down, but will remain a member of the board. The CEO position will be filled by Zachary George, currently a member of the board, and the president of Sundial's Canadian operations, Andrew Stordeur, has been appointed president and COO.

The c-suite executives aren’t the only ones mired in the game of musical cannabis. A number of LPs have announced company-wide layoffs, with some slashing around 10 per cent of their workforce.

In the first week of February, both Tilray and Aurora Cannabis announced more layoffs—Aurora cutting 500 jobs and Tilray, around 140. Most recently, Supreme Cannabis chopped its workforce by 15 per cent the company, citing a new company direction to support future growth.

The news follows an industry-wide trend that has picked up speed over the last year. January saw a “less than ten percent” workforce reduction at Sundial, Zenabis announced 40 layoffs at its head office in Vancouver, and Hexo Corp. cut 200 of its staff in October.

Most of these changes are being explained by the company's attempts to drive shareholder value, cut costs, and respond to market pressures.

Experts predict more to come, and it’s only February.

This article is available under a Canadian Creative Commons licence.