Interim CEO, President & Director
Mr. Dillman previously served as the Executive VP of Marketing, Sales & Operations at Emerald Health Therapeutics Inc. Mr. Dillman has over 30 years of global multi-national company experience, having served in senior positions at Philip Morris, AB InBev, and Coca-Cola. In the past 10 years, Mr. Dillman has successfully led the growth of a number of start-up companies, including founding and acting as President of Electronic Cigarettes International Group.
We sat down with Ascent’s new CEO to check in on where things are at with the company’s transition and talk about feedback Paul has received from the progress report he distributed to shareholders in May.
Question: Before we talk about the current transition and your shareholder message, it might be good to start with why you decided to take on the role of CEO for Ascent at this time?
Answer: When the Shareholder Group first approached me, I was struck with the passion of the team and Ascent’s strong relationships in the industry. Understanding the founders’ need to step back from the company, the opportunity to navigate through serious issues and the need to create a sustainable approach for success was an exciting challenge and one I knew I wanted to take on. With my experience building teams for start-ups here in Vancouver related to e-cigarettes, botanicals, e-liquids and most recently with the LP Emerald, it was a good fit.
Q: Let’s talk a bit about the shareholder message you distributed last week for a moment. Why did you decide to send the message – and why now?
A: It had been almost one-month since Ascent announced the establishment of the new Board, so we thought we had enough perspective to provide shareholders with a meaningful progress report. In addition to sharing relevant information, we wanted to convey a new commitment to proactive communication with all stakeholders – and in particular shareholders. And, we wanted to thank everyone for their loyalty and recognize their patience over the past year. The company has suffered significant set-backs in recent months but our new team is working tirelessly to get us all past that together. We see some light at the end of the tunnel.
Q: How would you describe the feedback have you received so far?
A: It has been encouraging. I have heard from some shareholders who are eager to be part of a significant course correction that returns honour, trust and value to the company while maintaining our vision of enhancing the quality of life of others. I have heard from many who were frustrated with the limited communication and company direction but happy that a new and experienced team is working quickly to gain a better understanding of the company’s current state and to take stock of potential opportunities. All welcomed a renewed commitment to more communication and forthrightness about the company’s status and the need to establish a sustainable business model. This feedback, the regulatory environment and Ascent’s current state will guide our deliberations over the coming weeks and months.
Q: So let’s go through some of the questions you have received so far. The most common one was about when the stock might start trading again. How do you respond to that?
A: While I wish I could give an exact date, it would be impossible today because there are a variety of factors in play. From our point of view, we want to start trading as soon as possible, but we also understand that with the situation the company has been left in, timing will depend greatly on how successful we are over the next few weeks in resolving the outstanding accounts and financial reviews. This question is one of the reasons we are adopting a proactive communication process – so shareholders and our other partners can be more actively engaged and informed. Regular progress reports will focus on important issues and current events – including the resumption of trading.
Q: Will the shares remain trading under ASNT?
A: That is the current situation, however we are exploring options that could affect this going forward.
Q: Are you planning to do any additional communication with shareholders beyond these regular progress report over the summer, such as conference calls or in-person meetings?
A: Yes, as soon as we can work through outstanding issues associated with the previous management, we will be in a position to establish more communication platforms with key stakeholders and shareholders. We are excited about this and will be devoting resources to it. June 25th’s special general meeting will be an opportunity to do that too.
We have also refreshed the company’s web-site to make it more current and relevant to the company’s current operations. This work will be expanded over the coming weeks to our other social media platforms.
Q: Earlier this year, before you arrived, the company announced the sale of Canadian assets to another BC-based company BZAM. Some of the questions you received were related to that deal and what assets the company still has in Canada. Would you like to address that?
A: Yes. Based on our analysis to date, it looks like there are some limited Canadian assets that were not included in the agreement. In addition to the suspended Health Canada production and research licenses, Ascent still has some office space and staff in Metro Vancouver. We also have a standing research collaboration with Simon Fraser University. The reality of the situation is that we are still finding out new things every day, so assembling an inventory of assets has been a priority for us.
Q: Was Ascent’s intellectual property part of the deal with BZAM? I am thinking about the water soluble and the vape technology that was created specifically.
A: This is one of things we are trying to get to the bottom of. We have requested documentation and we are reviewing documentation on hand.
Q: Where do you see the company’s future in Canada?
A: I think the answer to this question will depend largely on the outcomes of our current discussions with Health Canada. Obviously the challenges associated with the Health Canada licenses have created a significant obstacle to growth here. That is why resolving them and getting some closure is a top priority. Ascent is a proudly Canadian company and our goal is to try and resolve the impasse with Health Canada in a way that does not limit future options in Canada, if that is a path we chose to take.
Q: Your message referred to an important hearing in Nevada on May 30 regarding the company’s license status. What was the outcome?
A: Thanks for asking. The May 30 hearing was delayed to June 27th so watch for additional updates soon. We believe this puts us in a position to be better prepared for a favorable outcome.
Q: Ascent has a significant presence in the United States and strategic alliances in Europe. Building on the discussion about Canada, where do you see the company’s global future?
A: The most important thing we can do to secure the company’s future is to adopt an inclusive, transparent and consultative approach to operations that promotes continuous quality improvement at all levels of the organization. We have been able to visit our operations in Nevada, California and Oregon over the past 30 days and have seen opportunities for growth. The US marketplace in general is evolving rapidly and we will be able to leverage our strengths and previous investments. That is why we have put a significant amount of time and attention into resolving outstanding regulatory issues in Nevada. Ascent is in a unique situation. We are managing our way out of a storm and charting a new path at the same time. Our challenge is to simultaneously manage these competing realities on parallel tracks in a way that builds on the company’s strength, captures future opportunities and mitigates risk. After a month, we have started to identify and formulate plans to address key issues and early thoughts on how to leverage assets in a way that can drive near term revenue and support a long-term sustainable business model.
Q: So what do you think are some of the next steps for Ascent over the next couple months?
A: Our immediate focus over the next 30 days will be on the outstanding financial claims and regulatory compliance issues inherited from the previous administrations. We want to provide as comprehensive a report as possible for this month’s special shareholder meeting and protect the best interests of the company at all times. The second thing we are focused on over the next month is to build out our communications framework. We have started this already but it will be an ongoing project. This work will feature engagement opportunities for shareholders I mentioned earlier regarding the future direction of the company.
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