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Management Bruce Linton: ‘I’ve gone from high-tech to dot-com to infrastructure to cannabis’

Bruce Linton is the founder of Canopy Growth Corp., Canada's largest marijuana producer. He is also the chief executive officer of Martello Technologies. He began his career at telecom company Newbridge Networks Corp. and has worked in telecom, tech and now the marijuana business.

I grew up on a hobby farm near Wellesley, Ont., as the eldest of two sons. I think the 'hobby' was keeping two active young boys so busy with pigs, chickens, geese and ducks and other things that they couldn't get into material trouble. We had chores morning and night, which meant we developed some responsibility and a work ethic.

It was a good beginning for me, in a weird way. Almost everything I've done has related to not having any particular knowledge of the topic as an expert initially, but being in circumstances where you have to learn rapidly and not be particularly worried about learning it.

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When I had my first job interview after university, the final step was with [Newbridge founder] Terry Matthews. He said, 'You grew up on a farm, you'll figure it out.' It wasn't the wrong conclusion. [At Canopy], we probably have made more mistakes or attempts that resulted in error than any other company in the sector. There isn't a book to follow. There seems to be no value in asking, 'What happens if I push that button?' Push the goddamn button and find out. That is what it's like when you're breaking something on a farm.

I took public administration at Carleton University. I only had to get four credits over four years – the rest I could pick whatever I wanted. In my first year, I took courses in subjects like biology, philosophy and public policy. The whole point of university is: Learn about a whole bunch of things and then try to figure out, what does it all mean?

I was president of the Carleton University Students Association in 1989-90. I also was a student rep on the board of governors for two terms, where I met Matthews. I didn't know what he did at the time, but I knew he wanted to hear sensible things, from a student perspective, that may or may not be in concert with what the board is thinking. I used to routinely move the name tags around before the meetings, so I sat beside him. When I finished my last board meeting, I gave a speech saying I thought I learned more at the board than in my six years at university – which meant I was either a bad student or it was a helpful experience. Mr. Matthews came out to my car afterward and invited me for an interview at his company. I started a few months later.

I got into this business [I'm in now] after reading a newspaper article that said the police chiefs of Canada think their membership shouldn't enforce the laws as they relate to marijuana because they're unclear. I started poking around. I thought, 'When in my life am I going to see a supply chain for something [that] quite a lot of people need and want and like, created by a government action?' I went around asking people if they wanted to start this one with me.

The first four said 'Are you crazy?' I thought, that's terrific. That means there will be even fewer credible people that want to start them because the ones I spoke to think it's horrible, not because of the business, but because of the reputational risk. I thought, 'If you sit around and do nothing, isn't that also reputationally bad?'

I would sooner look at the circumstances around me, try to come to a conclusion and pursue it, than sit on the sidelines and say I thought about doing it. Just do it. It's the inversion of ego.

I always put myself in spots where I could be a disastrous failure. That's super motivational because you can't let it happen.

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Career can be a limiting perspective because people think they're supposed to be particularly good at something and stay with it. I've gone from high-tech to dot-com to infrastructure to cannabis. It relates to an eagerness to be with the big trends.

Stress is when you run out of money and nobody wants what you have. I find that, with marijuana, that's almost not likely to be the case.

As told to Brenda Bouw. This interview has been edited and condensed.

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