Interview with Ed Pintwala, CPG Executive Search

By Eric Vengroff, Financial Analyst, Cannabis Daily

Ten days ago, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the date when marijuana can legally be purchased, sold and consumed – October 17th.   Since that announcement, and sometime well before that, to insiders following the blistering growth and change this new agri-business sector is experiencing, the “HELP WANTED” sign has been figuratively hung from every cannabis company’s storefront window -or more realistically, on their websites.  The race for talent is underway.  So where are the personnel and search firms in all this?  How do they fit in?   So far, it appears there aren’t that many engaged in this area of employment -at least those who are ready to tell the world.    A notable exception is a Toronto-based firm called CPG Executive Search, that had a booth at the recent O’Cannabiz Expo in Mississauga three weeks ago.  I had a chance to interview Ed Pintwala, CEO, on the right in the picture above the highlights of which have been excerpted for brevity.

 

CD: Since the hiring boom now appears to be on in Canada in the cannabis space, can you tell us about your firm and how you got started specializing in cannabis hires?

EP: Sure, well we’re a team of five and ticking along in 2016, focusing on our traditional categories in recruitment of consumer-packaged-goods, food & beverage manufacturers in Canada and a little bit of pharma or natural health product-related companies. It was not myself who saw the light, or this movement coming.  It was one client who said “Ed, we’re going to keep you next year.  We’re going to need to hire some people next year…cannabis is coming.”   It was helping them and their early-stage clients, finding regulatory people and quality assurance people, people that had experience dealing with Health Canada and writing SOP’s.

CD: What are SOP’s?

EP:  Standard operating procedures.  Probably most closely related to the pharmaceutical sector in terms of the MMPR standards, but now ACMPR standards from Health Canada.  Where did we look? A lot of those job-seekers or professionals were in the food and beverage or pharma industries in terms of dealing with regulatory and audit bodies like Health Canada.  It was a natural fit for us, already being in those industries.

Mr. Pintwala went on to say that initial challenges in headhunting some candidates in these conventional industries and well-liked brands included (a) convincing them to work in a product with such stigma and heavy social implications, and (b) that the jobs were often 12 -18 months from either being ‘solid’ in terms of ability to sustain a living, or ultimate product legalization.

EP: In the early stages, there were no bricks and mortar, no office, no management team, but some early-stage entrepreneurs or investors -startups really.  We placed over 30 QAP’s (Quality Assurance Persons) in that first year.

CD:  At the same company or different clients?

EP:  At different clients across the country.  At some point Health Canada mandatory that in your application, you needed a designated QAP and you can’t be on more than one application.  That was most of 2017 – finding what I call ‘technical’ side of things, and now it’s becoming ‘fill in the blanks’.  Every other function – a lot of these companies need finance people, sales, marketing, supply chain, engineering and operations too.

 

CD: Would you say that there an imbalance between the job-seekers and open positions at this point?

EP:  That’s a difficult question. There’s no shortage of interest now from the public from what’s reported in the media. A lot of people do approach us now and want to get into industry, and a lot are very qualified and have great backgrounds.  That said, there’s still a war on talent.    There are late-stage entries, and everyone seems to be targeting similar backgrounds. Now some of those QAP people we placed 6,8,12 months ago – their phones and LinkedIn accounts are starting to ring, coming around asking if there are better, higher-paying postings available. They want retainers, they want signing-bonuses, they want six-figure salaries.  We saw that happen -quickly.

Mr. Pintwala also had a bit of warning for any latecomers to the Licensed Producers’ Ball.  It will become more difficult to find master growers, chief scientific officers or QAP’s.  He alluded to a ‘second wave’ of professionals in similar positions in traditional industries who have been perhaps a bit more cautious and have been waiting in the wings, testing the viability of a potential move before they jump ship at their current situations.   Now that we have a date, the uptick in activity, he says, is unprecedented in his experience.

CD: Where do you see your talent coming from in the future?

EP:  Anything regulated – tobacco, alcoholic beverages, big pharma, although there may not be as much of a fit for some of the mid-size companies.   More science and R&D are going into these companies, and as legalization occurs, with the 12-month sunset clause to approve these other cannabis-infused beverages or food, the more financially better-off companies are investing in that now, hiring product developers, innovation people, and food scientists now onto their staff.

In closing, Mr. Pintwala offered that although the hiring boom is officially on, it’s not a bonanza.  Companies will still do the requisite screening needed to identify good talent, so sending in your resume is no assurance of an interview.  He identified a key point of differentiation from a potential employee’s point of view, and that is having a high interest level and passion for the product.  “If you’ve done the research or have a story, a passion for the movement, that is half the battle -that’s what they want to see.  Qualifications are important too, but if you just look at this as just another job, you’ll miss out.   His observation is certainly in line with that of industry experts I saw who spoke at ideaCity, which I wrote about (cannabisdaily.today/six-key-differentiationpoints-for-the-cannabis-market-in-canada) a few days ago.   He predicts strength in hiring for at least the next 12-18 months as companies advance their go-to-market and export strategies.

Ed Pintwala, right, with some of his team at the Lift & Co. Expo.

The information and opinions presented here are that of the interview subject or the  analyst and do not represent the thoughts and opinions of this website.  The analyst does not own or represent any of the companies listed in this article and receives no compensation from any party mentioned in this article. Readers are urged to do their own research and due diligence and should seek advice from an independent financial advisor before making any financial investment.