Jennifer ‘Jenn’ Ayotte is every bit a cannabis pioneer, warrior, survivor and maven.
But she is also a pragmatic business person who has intimately experienced the full depth and breadth of the industry’s wild ride. And based on a ground-up combination of seed-to-sales experience and personal business model focussed on controlling costs and overhead, and measured expansion through market analysis rather than optimistic speculation, Ayotte has also been selected by Canadelaar as the ideal CEO to lead Maricann into Canada’s still-evolving industry’s ‘second wave.’
“If I didn’t enjoy a challenge, I wouldn’t have gotten into cannabis or still be here,” she laughed from Maricann’s Langton-area location. “And you can’t forget that with challenge, comes opportunity.”
Maricann was far from the only industry player to face significant issues, its highly noticeable and impactful in part by the scope of its ambition. Canadelaar, a leading Austrian cannabis entity’s purchase of Maricann through insolvency was finalized in April 2020. A division of the family-owned Ring International, Canadelaar was formed in early 2018, driven by a personal medical cannabis experience by a family member and supporting the multi-divisional group’s strategic transition from industrial B2B to consumer products.
Daniel Ould-Slimane, senior Canadelaar operations manager posted long-term to Maricann, combines petroleum and cannabis industry experience, the latter through different businesses in the igniting hemp and CBD space in the EU, ranging from facility build-up to the early import/export of high-CBD hemp varieties.
Maricann was an attractive prospect says Ould-Slimane, as one of Canada’s few Health Canada-licenced medical and recreational cannabis producers, which under Ayotte’s direction as cultivation manager, achieved EU-GMP certification, allowing European importation under the highest global pharmaceutical standard.
In the industry’s earlier days, bigger was seen as better, the drive for capacity dominated planning says Ould-Slimane.
It has been a dynamic evolution on the sales side since recreational legalization in October 2018, says Maricann National Director of Sales, Troy Rittammer.
Throughout 2019 and into 2020 the Canadian cannabis industry experienced a shift from constrained to abundant supply, driving pricing adjustments and shared challenges.
“What has remained constant since day one is Jenn and her team’s attention to detail and extra level of care,” said Rittammer. “It is that dedication to the plant that has been Maricann’s cornerstone and will continue to be into the future.”
Maricann occupies an ideally-balanced position between small boutique and industrial producers Ould-Slimane believes, with an approach designed to develop loyalty among discerning, new and repeat clientele through consistently crafted results.
“If you wish to attract the knowledgeable consumers, you must produce a product that continually meets their expectations.”
Rather than bringing in a CEO whose primary qualification is a business degree, Ould-Slimane cites Canadelaar’s choice of Ayotte as crystal clear indication of the emphasis placed on respect for a unique plant’s almost mystical properties. Her greenhouse experience, empowerment of a talented cross-trained cultivation and production team, and strict attention to detail which earned EU-GMP certification is relatable he believes, to a craft cannabis process. Beyond demonstrated ability within the greenhouse, her financial acumen and approach also melds nicely with Canadelaar’s.
“Jenn is the personification of what we want in a CEO,” he said. “She comes from a cannabis background, has gone through and understands all the processes and has very high standards.”
The announcement comes in conjunction with a new year, rebranding and introduction of new products. Throughout its challenges, Maricann maintained active production, good standing status with Health Canada and EU-GMP certification at its 34,000-square-foot original site. Incremental construction has resumed at the adjacent 217,000-square-foot expansion, with the goal of completing the original vision of a purpose-built cannabis production facility. Its controlled climate, isolation and automation will enhance production says Ould-Slimane, in conjunction with the experienced eyes and hands of Maricann’s human cultivation team the company believes are crucial to the process.
Ayotte describes herself as ‘humbled’ Canadelaar has put her in a position typically dominated by ‘heavy-duty business majors.’
There is a logic she agrees to empowering a person with a unique perspective on every aspect of cannabis production and an ability to deal with inevitable ‘hiccups’ because they have done each and every associated duty.
“There is a credibility that comes with understanding each process on a very personal level.”
The fact she is female should not be notable, but is in an industry dominated by males at the CEO level. Ayotte concedes her daughters find her rare ascension ‘extremely cool’ but her succinct summation is she is ‘simply there to do the job.’
“That’s the bottom line, but if this inspires or encourages other women to enter the industry, that would be great.”
Ayotte’s experience contributes fully to the understanding her position brings significant responsibility and pressure along with the title. But coming through a year in which survival itself was in question, not only has Maricann lived to fight another day, she embraces the opportunity for a fresh start, not just maintaining but expanding its position within the industry, and advancing upon the hard work already completed.
“Already, 2021 is looking like a much better year,” Ayotte concluded.