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Aurora forced Cam Battley out, investors are blind to the upside: analyst

Cam Battley was forced out of his executive job at Aurora Cannabis (ACB.TO)(ACB), according to one analyst. Cantor Fitzgerald’s Pablo Zuanic sees the departure as a win for shareholders, and a signal the company is shaking up its “bloated senior management structure.”

On Dec. 21, Edmonton-based Aurora said Battley “stepped down” from his chief corporate officer role. However, Zuanic describes it as a “forced departure.”

“We understand that Mr. Battley’s departure was not voluntary and thus see potential for ACB to turn the corner regarding reconciling its long-term ambitions with a more realistic approach to managing its near-term profitability and cash flow,” he wrote in a note to clients on Thursday.

Cam Battley of Aurora Cannabis is pictured at his companies penthouse office in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Jan. 27, 2017. Cam Battley, chief corporate officer of Aurora Cannabis, says the business is looking up despite rumours of a slowdown. Aurora Cannabis Inc. is reporting 20 per cent higher revenue and a 33 per cent lower net loss for the first three months of 2019 compared with the last quarter of 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Cam Battley of Aurora Cannabis is pictured at his companies penthouse office in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Jan. 27, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

Battley joined Aurora in 2016 and became chief corporate officer in 2018, where he was the public face of the company. He often spoke before chief executive officer Terry Booth on quarterly earnings calls, handled most media interviews, and regularly presented to audiences at cannabis industry conferences.

Yahoo Finance Canada reached out to Battley for comment on the circumstance under which he left Aurora, but received no response. Aurora has not named a replacement to fill the vacant job.

Aurora shares have slid more than 80 per cent from their post-recreational-legalization high in March. U.S.-listed shares hit a new 52-week low on Tuesday, dropping to $1.88 in early trading. The battered stock fell about 10 per cent on Dec. 23, the first trading day after Battley’s exit was announced.

Zuanic believes the market read the news wrong, a mistake he blames on the large portion of Aurora stock held by retail investors.

“The fact that he had become, somewhat de-facto, the face of the company, and given his fairly active Twitter feed, the market took his departure negatively,” he wrote.

Zuanic points to the 14 per cent jump in Canopy Growth (WEED.TO)(CGC) shares following the announcement of Constellation Brands (STZ) veteran David Klein as the company’s new CEO. Klein replaced Bruce Linton, Canopy’s charismatic leader who was ousted from his job last July amid lacklustre financial performance.

Canopy underwent a months-long talent search before Klein was given the top job last month. Zuanic hopes Nelson Peltz, the well-known American shareholder activist who Aurora brought on as a strategic advisor last March, will help recruit a “David Klein-type” CEO as part of a broader management shakeup.

“We think current CEO Terry Booth could take the role of chairman, Glen Ibbott should stay as CFO, and the new CEO could rationalize what we deem to be a bloated senior management structure,” he wrote.

Zuanic cut his price target for Aurora shares to $5 from $5.85 on Thursday and maintains an “overweight” rating.

“If Mr. Peltz could also negotiate a CPG (consumer packaged goods company) taking a stake in ACB, we think the stock could have a great 2020,” he wrote.

New York-listed shares fell 3.94 per cent to $2.08 at 12:05 p.m. ET. Toronto-listed shares dropped 3.23 per cent to $2.70.

Jeff Lagerquist is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jefflagerquist.

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