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Streetwise Aurora Cannabis hires BMO banker for executive role, extending governance shakeup

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Aurora Cannabis Inc. is adding another new face to its leadership and governance ranks, extending a string of board and management changes since the start of the year.

BMO Nesbitt Burns banker Carey Squires is joining the cannabis producer as an executive vice-president responsible for corporate development and strategy. Mr. Squires will report to recently appointed executive chairman Michael Singer, and not to chief executive officer Terry Booth.

The hire marks the fourth significant change to the company’s governance and management team in two months.

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In mid-February, Aurora announced a revamp of its board of directors. Notably, board chair Mr. Singer became executive chair in the shuffle. For most companies, such a change involves adding responsibility for at least some corporate operations or strategy.

At the same time, Aurora announced the resignation of Diane Jang as a director, as well as the appointment of Shan Atkins as a new independent director and chair of the audit committee. Ms. Atkins has served on numerous boards, including at Tim Hortons and Shoppers Drug Mart in the past.

A day later, Aurora also announced promotions to its management team, appointing a chief legal officer and a chief commercial officer.

Then, in mid-March, Aurora named Wall Street titan and veteran activist investor Nelson Peltz as a strategic adviser. Mr. Peltz runs the activist investment firm Trian Fund Management LP and he will work with Aurora on partnerships and global expansion. In exchange for lending his credibility and name recognition to the company, he was given millions of stock options.

At the time Mr. Peltz would not say if he was planning to use any stock he purchases to make an activist play at Aurora. However, Aurora chief corporate officer Cam Battley said the two parties had been in talks for months and had met several times face-to-face in New York. When asked if Mr. Peltz could push for action such as a sale of the company, Mr. Battley dismissed the idea. “That’s where we’re very much aligned, on a long-term opportunity," he said.

Because Mr. Peltz has decades of experience with consumer-goods companies, the expectation is that he could help Aurora sign partnerships with beverage and consumer-products giants, to give the company more legitimacy on the global stage.

Canadian cannabis producers are currently scrambling to sign export deals and to make international acquisitions. Across the industry, it is generally accepted that the Canadian market is oversaturated, so companies are looking abroad to grow and to live up to their rich valuations. As of Thursday morning, Aurora had a market value worth $12-billion.

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Aurora’s latest hire of Mr. Squires appears to complement Mr. Peltz’s role, with the company announcing he will focus on global growth, partnership strategies and investor development. Mr. Squires had been with BMO for a decade and most recently held the title of managing director and co-head of equity-linked capital markets. He advised Aurora on its recent sale of convertible notes, which raised US$345-million in January.

“With deep experience in the U.S. and Canadian capital markets, Carey has been a trusted adviser to Aurora on a variety of growth initiatives, including our recently successful capital raise,” executive chair Mr. Singer said in a statement.

Aurora did not immediately return a request for comment.

As Aurora revamps, rival Canadian cannabis producer Aphria Inc. has also been updating its governance and leadership. In late December, the company appointed Irwin Simon, who founded organic products company The Hain Celestial Group, Inc., as its first independent board chair. A few weeks later, in January, the company announced that CEO Vic Neufeld and co-founder and vice-president Cole Cacciavillani would step down from their roles.

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