Canopy Growth's Bruce Linton building budding marijuana empire

The chief executive’s unstoppable entrepreneurial drive is serving him well in his quest to keep his company at the forefront of Canada’s cannabis industry
Bruce Linton
Canopy Growth CEO Bruce Linton. Photo by Caroline Phillips.

There’s a spring snowstorm brewing outside and Bruce Linton has chosen to wear a short-sleeved tropical shirt, with matching yellow-rimmed sunglasses tucked into his breast pocket.

It’s his way of protesting the bad weather. But the attire also speaks volumes about his entrepreneurial spirit: energetic and optimistic.

Mr. Linton, 50, is co-founder, chairman and CEO of Canada’s first billion-dollar cannabis producer, Canopy Growth Corporation. It’s the parent company for Tweed, which he also co-founded and for which he serves as chief executive.

By now, most of Ottawa is aware of the success story of Canopy Growth, which produces and distributes marijuana products to patients across Canada and bills itself as the world’s largest legal weed company. On this particular day, the company was trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange at $10.54, with a market value of about $1.7 billion.

Here’s an even bigger number: The industry is expected to reach $22.6 billion in sales after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government legalizes pot for recreational use, a plan that is expected to take effect by the end of June 2018. A study by consulting firm Deloitte last fall said marijuana sales are predicted to then surpass those of alcohol.

And to think, when Mr. Linton started pitching his medicinal marijuana idea to potential co-founders, they tried to talk him out of it.

“Thankfully, almost no one thought it was a good idea almost five years ago,” says Mr. Linton. “A lot of people opposed it and didn’t understand it. What’s amazing is how, globally in five years, 80 or 90 years of prohibition has imploded on itself and everyone wants to regulate it.”

Canada is ahead of the game, and so are Mr. Linton and his team at Tweed. They previously bought the old Hershey chocolate factory in Smiths Falls and converted it into a medical marijuana factory. These days, Mr. Linton is often flying around the world on business, accumulating more air miles in three months than most loyal customers do in a year.

No longer is the question about whether Canopy Growth has a future. It’s about how bright that future will be.

“It’s about whether we can maximize the window of opportunity. As things are happening, you don’t want five years from now to say, ‘If only we had played a little harder or pushed a little more.’”

“It’s about whether we can maximize the window of opportunity,” Mr. Linton says. “As things are happening, you don’t want five years from now to say, ‘If only we had played a little harder or pushed a little more.’”

When listening to Mr. Linton talk about the company, what’s clear is how happy he is to share the success with his team.

The companies have turned 20 or more employees into first-time millionaires, he figures. One older staff member used her stock options to buy her first brand-new car. “She was telling me about it and she was teary-eyed, almost crying,” Mr. Linton says.

While his entrepreneurial star is rising high these days, Mr. Linton was already a budding businessman in the making when he first came to study in Ottawa in the early 1990s.

He served one year as president of the Carleton University Students’ Association, followed by two years on the school’s board of governors. He studied public administration and economics, taking six years to complete his four-year degree.

“It’s an education, not a race,” Mr. Linton used to tell his mom and dad, who worked back home in rural southwestern Ontario as an X-ray technician and machinist, respectively.

While on the board of governors, he became acquainted with fellow board member Terry Matthews, one of the most successful tech titans ever to come out of Ottawa. He’s founded or funded more than 100 companies, including Mitel and Newbridge Networks, and has created countless jobs.

Mr. Matthews offered the fresh graduate a position in the telecommunications software industry. He wanted Mr. Linton to start right away, but his protégé revealed he had the ultimate summer dream job already lined up: working for Molson’s and driving one of the company’s vans around while getting free food and free gas and handing out free beer.

The tech magnate understood. “I’ll see you in the fall,” he told the young man.

Wisely, Mr. Linton did go to work for Mr. Matthews in that fall of 1992 and continues to work for him today, having weathered the ups and downs of his career along the way.

Mr. Linton regularly gives talks on the topic of entrepreneurship. “The great news is, it’s fully diagnosable. The bad news is, there’s no cure,” he always says.

“I think to be an entrepreneur you have to have energy, you have to have optimism and, as you get older, you are hopefully able to figure out why you lost money and why ideas didn’t work, but you don’t become jaded.”

On top of his leadership role at Canopy, he’s also the CEO of Kanata-based telecommunications software startup Martello Technologies. Mr. Matthews is the chairman of the board and remains Mr. Linton’s biggest role model.

Mr. Linton has worked over the years with a bunch of prominent Ottawa entrepreneurs, including Rod Bryden, John Kelly and Michael Cowpland. “I’ve been collecting the whole series,” he jokes.

He says he has no plans to retire. Ever.

“I don’t get what’s the hurry, unless you hate what you’re doing, but then you should quickly quit and then go do something else.”

Don’t just hang in there for the pension, he adds. “Does a pension involve extending your life? Then f---ing quit.”

Five things you should know about Bruce Linton

1 He says he doesn’t smoke pot and will wait until the government makes it legal for recreational use before becoming a consumer.

2 He likes to play by the rules. “I like rules. I don’t mind losing, but I hate it if somebody is greedy and doesn’t play fair.”

3 Mr. Linton doesn’t waste money. He drives a boxy-looking Ford Flex SUV that’s gone 242,000 clicks. “It’s like a seven-year-old designed the car, but you can put a lot of stuff in it.”

4 He and his wife, Heather, have two sons, ages 15 and 14. One is into speed skating while the other performs with Orpheus Musical Theatre. In his free time, he drives them around to their activities. “Neither of them drive, despite my urging that they just take the car,” he jokes.

5 Mr. Linton’s childhood address was certainly off the beaten path: Rural Route #1, Gads Hill, Ontario. His home was, he jokes, an “out-of-control hobby farm intended to keep my brother and I from going to jail.” He spent a lot of time building, breaking and fixing things, and having to feed the chickens.