Irwin Simon, At The Helm Of One Of The Biggest Cannabis Operators, Tilray: Meet Our Keynote Speakers

Who is the person behind the largest Canadian cannabis company in the world? That would be Irwin D. Simon, chairman and CEO of  Tilray Brands Inc. TLRY

After some 30 years in executive roles at various consumer packaged goods companies from organic and natural foods to personal care initiatives, Simon landed on cannabis, at least for now. 

This year, at the upcoming Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference, to be held on April 20 and April 21 at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach Hotel in Florida, Simon will deliver the keynote speech and share his vast knowledge and experience across this booming industry. 

Prior to joining Tilray in May 2021, Simon was known as the visionary who transformed Aphria into a profitable global cannabis company with leading market share brands. When the two large marijuana operators decided to join their forces and create a company with a combined market cap of $3.3 billion last spring, Simon was essential to the deal. Under the merger agreement, Simon was elected as CEO of the resulting company, which was projected to generate roughly $81 million in annual pre-tax cost synergies within the following eighteen months. 

‘I’m Not A Quitter’ 

Considering that Simon faced considerable challenges when he joined Aphria in 2018, which at the time was affected by a short-sellers report, it made perfect sense that Tilray wanted a person like him at its helm. 

"I remember calling my wife and telling her, 'What am I doing?" Simon told Bloomberg. "But I'm not a quitter. I thought there's a big opportunity here and I had to convince myself that I was up to doing it." 

And it looks like he rose to the challenge. 

Although Simon majored in sociology at Saint Mary's University, he remembers getting involved in “everything with sales, marketing, business development. I never went to school for it, but it's really where I got my MBA." 

At a young age, he learned about business at his father’s small grocery store. One of the most important lessons he took with him from those years is that you need to take chances - something his father didn’t do. 

Business Growth Model: Acquisitions 

In the early ’90s, Simon took one of his first major chances when he used $200,000 in personal savings to acquire several food brands - including a kosher frozen foods company called Kineret. By 1993, he took the company public, with a slim valuation of $3.5 million. Later, the company was rebranded to The Hain Celestial Group, Inc. HAIN, which Simon managed for more than 25 years. During that time, the business grew to $3 billion in net sales with operations in North America, Europe, Asia,and the Middle East, providing its consumers with “A Healthier Way of Life.”

Throughout his career, Simon led more than 60 acquisitions, most of which happened at Hain Celestial. 

"My model was to grow this business through acquisitions and by diversifying, because the biggest part of my business was rice cakes, and I knew one day people would stop eating rice cakes," he said. 

Tilray’s Strategy Under Simon 

Last year, Simon was a guest on Benzinga's Cannabis Insider Show hosted by Patrick Lane and Javier Hasse. During the interview, he discussed Tilray’s business strategy, plans for the U.S. and Europe, beverage and alcohol operations, medical marijuana activities, and more.

According to Simon, the most important moves Tilray made in 2021, aside from its merger with Aphria, included the purchase of SweetWater Brewing Company and the company’s acquisition of Breckenridge Distillery.

Even though he is not convinced that he'll see federal legalization in the U.S. anytime soon, he and Tilray will be ready when it happens. He explained that, as a public company that trades on the NASDAQ and Toronto Stock Exchange, Tilray “can’t touch cannabis in the U.S.” As such, to develop a consumer product business, Tilray is building around spirits and beer.

“One day I hope to be holding a bourbon that’s infused with THC instead of alcohol,” he said. 

Tilray plans to build its business in the U.S. around its Manitoba Harvest hemp operations now that hemp is legal within the food industry.

Simon disclosed Tilray's plans to infuse food and drinks with hemp and CBD, as an important part of its long-term strategy in the United States.

In terms of Europe, Tilray has already established a strong base in the EU — having a distribution business in medical products that sells to 13,000 drugstores as well as two grow facilities that sell products to 20 different countries.

 ‘I Don’t Want To Be Elon Musk’ 

When asked what he thought about a comment made by one of the show’s listeners “Tilray is going to be the Tesla TSLA of weed stocks,” Simons was clear: “I don’t want to be Elon Musk.”

But rather, “I want to redefine P&Gs PG of the world, the Nestlés NESN of the world. Jeff Bezos said if Amazon AMZN doesn’t change, it will go out of business one day. And that’s the thing I look at with Tilray — how are we evolving and changing every day?”

Simon continued, “I’m not sure I want to be Tesla, I’m not sure I want to be General Motors GM I’m not sure I want to be Unilever ULVR…I want to be a bunch of things that do a lot of things right.” 

Tilray’s CEO concluded that the company will probably make mistakes and “screw up” but will make sure to fix them and learn from them. 

Business Outside Of Tilray – Marketing, Sports, And Restaurants 

Simons's other current roles include - executive chairman of Whole Earth Brands, Inc. FREE, a global industry-leading platform focused on the “better for you” consumer packaged goods and ingredients space. 

He is also the lead director at Stagwell Inc. STGW, a digital-first global marketing network that delivers scalable, seamless solutions through a unique combination of culture-moving creativity and leading-edge technology.

Simon serves on the board of directors at Tulane University and the Board of Trustees at Poly Prep Country Day School.  He is also the majority owner of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team, and co-owner of St. John’s Edge of the National Basketball League of Canada, and the co-owner of the iconic Lobster Roll Restaurant, also known as “Lunch” in the Hamptons.

Fun Facts 

Interestingly, Simon is known for several superstitions such as doing deals on Tuesdays and Fridays and then donating money to charity once he's closed the deal. 

“I’m very superstitious,” said Simon. “During a deal, I never get a haircut.

Those who've shared the same working space with Simon say he is tough and demanding, but also able to make quick and crucial calls, and often relies on his instincts. 

About Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference

The event will feature traditional keynotes, panel discussions, fireside chats, networking, company presentations as well as investor and celebrity appearances, all of which will take place at the hotel's large exhibit space to better facilitate networking opportunities.

"We've seen cannabis businesses raise tens of millions of dollars at our events and this year's meeting will be even larger, with a record level of investment capital and top-notch operators," said Jason Raznick, Benzinga's founder and CEO. "We're particularly excited about Irwin's keynote, as he will share his wealth of knowledge and experience with our attendees."

Renowned for being the premier gathering of cannabis entrepreneurs and investors in North America, April's Cannabis Capital Conference returns with an extraordinary edition, recharged with an impressive list of speakers. Check out the full lineup here.

Beringer Capital, a private equity firm focused on the media, marketing services, and technology sectors, acquired a majority stake in Benzinga in October, in a deal valued at $300 million.


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The Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference is coming to Florida

The Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference is returning to Florida, in a new venue in Hollywood, on April 16 and 17, 2024. The two-day event at The Diplomat Beach Resort will be a chance for entrepreneurs, both large and small, to network, learn and grow. Renowned for its trendsetting abilities and influence on the future of cannabis, mark your calendars – this conference is the go-to event of the year for the cannabis world.

Get your tickets now on – Prices will increase very soon!