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Here to Help You Grow: Mitchell Osak Joins MNP’s Cannabis Team

11/06/2019


MNP is excited to welcome Mitchell Osak to the Ontario / Quebec Consulting team, focusing on the Cannabis sector. Based out of Toronto, Mitchell has extensive experience in this expanding market, working with a variety of Cannabis organizations throughout Canada. After four years with Grant Thornton, Osak is on board and looking forward to helping MNP clients reach their goals.

In this interview, Osak talks about why he joined the firm, where he sees the industry going and what separates MNP from the pack.

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  1. Shed some light on your professional background. What attracted you to the Cannabis sector and how did you begin working with the industry?

I’m excited to be part of a huge industry that is stepping out of the shadows of the black market into legality and social acceptance. I’m also proud to be a citizen of a nation that is leading the world in creating safe and secure regulatory frameworks and germinating market-leading firms. These kinds of opportunities don't come around every day. Legalized cannabis is a generational opportunity and I'm excited to be at the right place at the right time.   I am also proud to be a part of an industry that is bringing medicinal and wellness benefits to millions of people. Though early days, we are seeing significant research around cannabinoids and how they can help humans and animals live better lives. The potential benefits are enormous with applications beyond my immediate imagination.

My engagement in the industry was pure chance.  I used to write a column in the Financial Post.  Back in 2015, an executive director of a leading Cannabis industry association read one of my articles on “best practice” market and consumer segmentation and asked me to do similar analysis for the Canadian cannabis sector. The rest is consulting history.

  1. What attracted you to working with MNP? What do you hope to accomplish in your new consulting role at the firm?

First off, I wanted to be with the professional services leader in the Cannabis space. Without a doubt, that is MNP. Second is the importance of the team and culture. I have been impressed with MNP’s values, expertise and boldness in taking advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity. Each MNP Cannabis practitioner I have met is a leader in this field.

My goal is to work with my cross-service line peers across the regions to extend MNP‘s Cannabis revenue and brand leadership, particularly from an advisory perspective. My focus is on delivering high-quality strategy, organizational enhancement and mergers and acquisitions support solutions. I am fortunate to have established a strong North American public profile around corporate best practices, consumer behaviour, branding, technology and product trends. I am looking to regularly bring this knowledge and experience to our clients and prospects as well as help support our marketing team through media outreach and thought leadership creation.

  1. Canada is playing a leading role in the global cannabis sector – what trends, influences and forecasts do you see domestically and internationally moving forward?

A variety of trends and developments are impacting this sector. Canadian Cannabis players – and those interested in participating in the industry – need to be mindful of evolving regulations, investor volatility, growing consolidation, dynamic consumer tastes and the disruptive impact of new product, cultivation and delivery technologies. Though the rules have yet to be finalized, Canada’s pending legalization of edibles in October 2019 is a game-changer for this young sector.

Globally, the Cannabis train has left the station. The world is moving towards some form of Cannabis legalization. For the countries looking at legalization as well as many U.S. states, the Canadian regulatory framework is viewed as the best in class.

What has become evident is that the medical, wellness and adult-use cannabis markets are huge with pent-up demand. However, with substantial opportunity comes business risk that also needs to be carefully considered.   

  1. In the discussions you’re having with the Cannabis industry, what’s top of mind for producers, distributors and retailers right now?

Most producers stay up at night thinking about three things.

First is growing high-quality and low-cost product that meets Health Canada’s strict rules. Fact is, cannabis is not an easy thing to grow at industrial scale and at a low cost.

Second, in order to build their brands, producers need appealing and consistent product that can scale in mass distribution. For example, a Big Mac must taste the same in Calgary as it does in Toronto in order to build customer loyalty.

Finally, producers need to quickly build competencies in critical areas such as financial management, IT, supply chain and HR. The challenge is unique: build out organizations in months when other industries have taken years if not decades to optimize. Going from zero to 100 in months requires good people who understand the sector. It’s a tall order but an area where MNP can help.

Some producers are concerned about not having enough cash to meet the market opportunity when its fully realized. Right now, we don't have as much retail as thought we would have. We also don't know what the edibles legalization is going to look like. The stops and starts the government has imposed on the industry is putting plans on hold. Many producers are justifiably concerned that they might run out of cash.

Retailers and distributors also have their three hot-button questions: 1) providing their consumers the right product and brand mix, 2) maintaining regulatory compliance and; 3) creating a compelling and differentiated customer experience, based on winning service, merchandising and pricing.

  1. What are the opportunities and challenges you see for Cannabis companies?

All facets of the cannabis ecosystem have witnessed a rush of new entrants.  The winners will be the firms who can do the following.

1) Create a compelling value proposition and brand in the marketplace. There are a thousand brands today but in five years from now, some activities or categories will have only 10 or even 5 major players. In the fragmented and highly regulated Canadian markets, organizations need to easily differentiate themselves in a consumer and channel-relevant way while capturing scale economies.

2) Quickly but carefully, build out your organization and human capital, in an industry with no playbook or experienced workforce. This means having the right systems, policies and technology to maximize productivity, learning and standards while proactively minimizing risk. 

3) Strategically manage cash flow and investment. Having enough cash flow and liquidity to be able to fund your growth will be key to success.

  1. How are companies approaching the cash flow issue?

They're doing a few things. First, companies are becoming more proactive in getting their financial management policies and systems in order. If you don't have a good idea of what you're spending and what you're making, you are going to get into trouble, fast.

Secondly, many firms are becoming more sophisticated around financing. Until recently, the only funding available was equity – go out and raise money and give up shares in your company. That was expensive and challenging, particularly if you weren’t an early mover. Now, the capital markets are evolving to include debt-based instruments. This gives CFOs more flexibility in terms of cash management and financing growth

Given the slow market rollout, traditional cost management approaches are becoming a priority. If companies aren't working diligently at driving down their costs – the cost to grow, the cost of selling – they're going to face cash flow problems soon. Fact is, most firms aren't making money and an over-reliance on external financing could prove problematic if liquidity dries up.

  1. How is MNP differentiating itself from other professional services firms in the Cannabis sector? What benefits do clients gain from working with our business advisors?

In my experience, MNP’s integrated one-firm approach is tailor-made for the needs of mature and emerging cannabis enterprises. Clients need the expertise, industry network and responsiveness that only a silo-free and entrepreneurial provider like MNP can deliver.

As the industry is in its infancy, our clients face challenges with a lack of data, market experience and time compression. That's where MNP comes in. With over 300 clients across the Cannabis sector, a library of thought leadership and a roster of experts puts us in a fantastic and unique position to assemble market intelligence, cultivate a network of contacts and provide unique advice. That's a huge competitive advantage for us and real value for our clients.