Early Aphria Backer Ups Stake In Private Equity Firm He Left In April

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Andrew DeFrancesco left the company abruptly in April.

Former SOL Global Investments Corp. (TSE:SOL) CEO Andrew DeFrancesco reported on Sep. 20 that he upped his ownership position in the Toronto-based private equity firm to 19.99% from 12.27%.

DeFrancesco bought the shares as part of the founder’s settlement agreement he reached in April after abruptly stepping down as CEO and director.

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DeFrancesco received a $24 million severance package payable over six years at $1 million per quarter.

He will consult for Sol through October.

“I am incredibly proud of what we have built at SOL Global and what my team has achieved since I founded the company. I am excited about our next phase of growth as the company continues to incubate and foster our portfolio companies to extract maximum value for stockholders,” DeFrancesco said when he left office

Kevin Taylor replaced DeFrancesco. He joined Sol from TEREI International, where he was president and CEO for 14 years at the merchant bank focused on investments in small and mid-sized companies. Taylor has more than 30 years of experience working with Fortune 500 businesses.

Taylor’s main task as CEO will be to raise the share price, closing the gap with net asset value.

As recently as May 31, 2021, the company’s NAV was $7.43 per share, 2.2x its share price. As of May 31, 2022, its NAV had dropped to $3.43, 5x its share price. Its NAV today is 10x SOL Global’s current share price. 

DeFrancesco’s history as a dealmaker has been filled with ups and downs, many of them in the cannabis industry.

He was one of the early backers of Aphria, a Leamington, Ontario-based cannabis company that ultimately merged with Tilray (TSE:TLRY) in May 2021. 

DeFrancesco got a contract in May 2014 with Black Sparrow, a capital pool company, to find a business to buy. He had become friends with Cole Cacciavillani, a greenhouse grower who had co-founded Aphria to grow cannabis. When Aphria got rejected for a loan by their bank, it turned to DeFrancesco and Black Sparrow. A deal to buy Aphria in a reverse takeover was consummated by June.  

Black Sparrow issued more than 50 million shares to do the deal, most going to Cacciavillani and the other Aprhia shareholders. DeFrancesco got 1.8 million shares as a finder’s fee.

In December 2018, DeFrancesco was at the center of short-seller Hindenburg Research’s allegations that Aphria was part of a plan by insiders to make money off worthless cannabis assets acquired by the company in South America and the Caribbean. According to Hindenberg's report, Scythian Biosciences, SOL Glvitall’s predecessor company, was a key part of the plan.

In late August, the Southern District of New York granted a motion filed by plaintiffs to certify a class action lawsuit against the company. Anyone buying Aphria stock on a U.S. stock exchange between July 17, 2018, and April 12, 2019, can join the case. 

In the meantime, investments such as SOL Global’s 25.3% interest in Jones Soda (US:JSDA) have gotten caught in the cannabis crossfire.

Article by Will Ashworth, Fintel