In May 2017 we were hanging out at the Emblem Cannabis party after day one of the Lift Expo. We started chatting with Kurtis Kilgour and learned about his transition into the cannabis sector.
What do you do at Emblem?
I’m the Corporate Controller at Emblem Corp (EMC). I report to the CFO. I’m responsible for the accounting department, cash management, reporting, and regulatory reporting. It’s an all encompassing finance job. I like it because I get a feel for everything that is going on in the company, and for GrowWise too. (Emblem has a Joint Venture with GrowWise Health patient education centres.)
How long have you worked there?
Almost a year and a half. It feels like longer because so much has happened within that time. The company had only been active for about a year prior to me joining. I joined right when things were ramping up. We went public last December, which was interesting because I had the opportunity to help pull the numbers together for going public. It was a real team effort and my first experience with a public company.
Where did you work before Emblem?
I came from a role as a Technical Accountant at Munich Re. I was responsible for reconciling premiums, claims, and running reports to see if they matched up with estimates. It was interesting to see how insurance companies work. It was a much different corporate culture than Emblem - one where you wear suit everyday to work. It was a very stable business and things don’t change much day-to-day. The people were great. It was a large organization so things were set in place, rules had been created long ago.
Emblem is a young company so I get to set up structure and guidelines as we grow.
How did you end up working for a cannabis company?
I was downsized at Munich Re. Last in the door, first to go. They implemented a new technology system and needed less people. However, I wasn’t super engaged and was looking for work, so it was good timing.
I knew the Director of Patient Care at GrowWise Health and she suggested I meet with Maxim Zavet, the President of Emblem. I went for a tour of the production facility and was surprised by how professional everything was. I could see where they wanted to take it. It was tangible. There were security cameras, lab coats, and the grow rooms were laid out immaculately. The first time you see 1200 plants - it’s something else.
I ended up turning down another insurance job and took the job at Emblem.
Did you have any hesitation about working for a cannabis company?
Absolutely. I thought it could be a risk to my career, but quickly I felt the opportunity outweighed the risk. In the end it was an easy choice. You don’t get a lot of opportunities to join something that is going to be so big. By getting in now I also expect there will be leadership opportunities in the future.
What did your friends and family think?
My friends brought up the career risk. They thought it was something that could give a HR manager pause if they were reviewing my resume in the future.
My Dad thought it was a no brainer. There is just so much more potential than the other jobs.
What do you like most about working in this sector? What is the most challenging? What has surprised you the most?
I like the excitement in the space. All the different things that are happening like Lift and New Cannabis Ventures, as an example. Not just in the Canadian space - in the USA too. Nevada released recreational sales earlier this year and people were lined up around the block. It shows the demand. People want this.
The banking regulatory environment is challenging. I didn’t expect it to be an issue in Canada. It’s been disappointing. The credit unions have stepped in to fill the gaps and the big banks are on the side lines.
I’m surprised that legalization has happened so quickly. It was a Trudeau election promise and now a reality. If you’d asked me 5 years ago, I probably would have said we were 20 years out.
What specialized knowledge have you had to acquire to work in this industry or in your current role?
I have always been interested in business, finance, accounting and economics. A Chartered Professional Accountant designation or something equivalent is needed for this role.
Cannabis has some unique challenges from an accounting perspective. A specific example is that International Accounting Standard 41 is meant for long lived biological assets or very stable biological assets - but it is applied to cannabis. It means you have to recognize the fair value of the cannabis plant as it matures. Once the plant is flowering you have to recognize “x” amount of revenue and then move it into inventory. You can end up with a weird situation where you can have a negative cost of goods sold.
What makes Emblem a great place to work?
The people and the culture. We’re a close group, all pulling in the same direction. We are creating a product and brand that we can stand behind. It feels like a family. It’s relaxed and the environment is business casual but everyday brings new challenges and tasks. It’s a lot of hours and you have to roll with the punches. I’m always excited to go to work.
As you look ahead, what excites you most about this industry?
The current regulatory changes - I’m waiting to see what is going to happen provincially. The market will open up further and it will be interesting to see how each province approaches legalization.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career change into the cannabis sector?
This sector is far from tapped out. There is a lot of opportunity left. If you’re looking for a change of pace from a corporate environment, the cannabis industry should be appealing. Just go for it. People are typically more successful if they do something that motivates them intrinsically.