Aphria CEO and company co-founder to step down
Changes are afoot in the corporate leadership of Leamington-based cannabis company Aphria Inc. — amid turmoil over the attack of a short seller and wavering stock.
On Friday morning, Aphria announced that its CEO, Vic Neufeld, and company cofounder Cole Cacciavillani will both “transition out of their executive roles in the coming months.”
Neufeld and Cacciavillani will remain on the company’s board of directors, but the company said it will shift to “a globally minded executive leadership team for the long-term benefit of the company’s patients, shareholders, customers, and employees.”
In a news release, Neufeld recalled the roots of the company in greenhouse operator Cacciavillani growing “millions of potted flowers” in Leamington five years ago, when the Canadian medical marijuana market opened.
“Now with legalization and globalization, including a huge market opportunity with positive developments in the U.S., Aphria’s next generation of leadership may take the reins,” Neufeld said.
Neufeld noted that building and leading Aphria has taken a toll on his health, family, and personal priorities.
Cacciavillani mentioned that both Neufeld and himself are in their 60s in age.
According to Neufeld, a succession plan is in place, and he and Cacciavillani will step down “at the appropriate time.”
An exact date has not been given for the appointment of a new CEO.
The company’s board has asked Neufeld and Cacciavillani to be available as “special advisers” to the chair and president.
Neufeld and Aphria did not reply to requests for further comment on Friday.
The announcement came with a report on the company’s second quarter results.
Founded in 2014, Aphria Inc. has risen as one of the highest-valued cannabis companies in the world, with a market capitalization of more than US$2 billion.
The company’s leadership was formed when Neufeld, former CEO of vitamin company Jamieson Laboratories, joined with Aphria founders Cacciavillani and John Cervini.
But after a rocket-like ascent, Aphria became mired in controversy at the start of December, when a damning report by a short seller made the company’s stock plummet.
Calling the company a “black hole,” the short seller, Quintessential Capital, alleged that Aphria had wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on worthless foreign acquisitions as part of a financial shell game.
Aphria dismissed the report as “false and defamatory,” and promised a comprehensive, line-by-line rebuttal — which, as of Jan. 11, has still not come.
The company’s story was further complicated in late December with a hostile takeover bid by an Ohio-based marijuana company, Green Growth Brands.
Controversy continued when it emerged that the second-largest shareholder of Green Growth Brands — GA Opportunities Corp. — is backed by Aphria and advised by Neufeld.
The forensic analysis firm Hindenburg Research, as part of the short-seller attack on Aphria, suggested the company is “part of a scheme orchestrated by a network of insiders to divert funds away from shareholders into their own pockets.”
But earlier this month, an investigation by financial news outlet Bloomberg put the short seller’s claims in question after journalists visited Aphria assets and properties in Jamaica that Quintessential Capital suggested did not exist. [email protected]media.com
— Windsor Star
Vic Neufeld, CEO of Aphria Inc., is shown in Leamington in this February 2016 file photo. Neufeld and the company's co-founder, Cole Cacciavillani, announced they are stepping down from their management roles with Aphria.