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Top Executives Leave Major Companies to Tap Into $194B Cannabis Industry

Top Executives Leave Major Companies to Tap Into $194B Cannabis Industry

If more countries decide to legalize recreational cannabis, it could lead to a $194 billion global market, and that prospect has executives at some of the biggest, most successful companies in the world looking to jump ship.

Per a recent article by Business Insider:

When Ed Schmults, a veteran retail executive, received an out-of-the-blue phone call from a headhunter in July, he had no idea that in just a few short months he’d end up as the CEO of a cannabis company.

“She was working hard to put the hook in — about the size of the opportunity and the ‘clean slate,’ if you will,” Schmults told Business Insider. She didn’t initially tell Schmults that she was recruiting for a cannabis company.

“I was like, ‘Huh, cannabis? I’ll have to think about that,'” he said. “At the end of the day, I really liked the investors.”

Schmults, now the new CEO of Calyx Peak Capital, a firm based in Massachusetts that invests in cannabis retail licenses in several states, is just one of numerous consumer veterans who have moved into the nascent industry.

Schmults and executives like him see an opportunity to use their vast experience to help build brands, negotiate deals and create an incredibly complex distribution and supply-chain networks the cannabis industry needs to take the next step.

Cannabis is a rare opportunity to get into a new industry from the ground up, one that could have a giant payoff waiting on the other side of legalization.

After a stint at Goldman Sachs, Schmults was the chief operating officer of Patagonia and the CEO of the storied toy retailer FAO Schwarz.

While some of his former colleagues ribbed him over his “sharp career turn,” Schmults said that when he described the size of the opportunity, their jokes turned to questions of how and when they could invest.

Some other big names to jump into the cannabis job market:

  • Chris Burggraeve, the former chief marketing officer of Budweiser’s parent company, AB InBev, found his way into the cannabis industry after MBA students at a class he was teaching at New York University submitted proposals for cannabis startups as their final projects.
  • Peter Horvath, who led the shoe retailer DSW’s initial public offering in 2005 as the company’s president — along with serving in C-suite positions at American Eagle and Victoria’s Secret — said that jumping into the cannabis industry was a matter of “skating to where the puck is going.”
  • Beau Wrigley Jr., the heir to the Wrigley fortune and former CEO of the eponymous gum company, was just named the CEO of Surterra Wellness, a medical cannabis company based in Florida.
  • And the publicly traded cannabis company Green Thumb Industries — whose CEO, Ben Kovler, is an heir to the Jim Beam whiskey fortune — on Wednesday closed a $290 million acquisition of three new dispensary licenses in Las Vegas; the firm is also backed by the hedge fund billionaire Leon Cooperman.
  • MedMen, a chain of retail cannabis dispensaries, hired Ben Cook, a former vice president at Sam’s Club, as its new COO in October.
  • And Jakob Ripshtein, who spent 10 years at the alcohol giant Diageo, is now the president of Aphria, a publicly traded Canadian cannabis cultivator. In August, reports surfaced that Diageo was looking at pursuing a deal with a Canadian cannabis company — and Aphria was at top of the list.