CannaCraft CEO William Silver seeks to make Sonoma County the business mecca for cannabis
If the Sonoma County cannabis industry is to grow and thrive as the business mecca for marijuana in California and possibly the United States, William Silver is likely to play a vital role.
Silver joined Santa Rosa-based cannabis manufacturing firm CannaCraft Inc. earlier this month as its CEO, stepping down in December from a decadelong position as dean of Sonoma State University's School of Business and Economics.
Silver brings CannaCraft and the cannabis industry instant credibility within the North Bay business community, a super-connected contact list of colleagues and friends across varied sectors, and the ability to think outside the box. These could prove valuable commodities as California's estimated $7 billion cannabis industry emerges from the shadows, wrestling with issues from high taxation to Attorney General Jeff Sessions' desire to curb its growth.
Silver's resume is impressive. He is an educator on entrepreneurship and innovation; a published author on a book - “The Way of Zing” - about aligning one's work with their life; a rainmaker who helped raised $11 million for SSU's Wine Spectator Learning Center, which will open in May and house its Wine Business Institute; and a consultant and advisor who has served on the boards of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce and Sonoma County Vintners, where he played a major role in luring the county's signature Taste of Sonoma wine-and-food event to the university's Green Center last year.
His decision to take the job will likely serve as a turning point that will lead other local professionals to consider working in the cannabis industry, said Ben Stone, executive director for the Sonoma County Economic Development Board. It comes as the industry seeks to erase the stigma left by outlaw growers and sketchy head shop owners, crafting a new reputation as a mainstream business that needs to attract top talent for one of the country's fastest-growing industries.
“I think it's a hallmark in this industry as it's becoming more normalized,” Stone said of Silver's hiring. “You'll have people of more traditional background going into it.”
For Silver, a 53-year-old married father of three teens, the decision was rather easy after first consulting with the co-founders of CannaCraft on its corporate structure and leadership team. The job gives him a chance to influence the future of the company - which produces such products as chocolates, vapor cartridges and massage oils - but also help to shape a developing industry.
“This was an opportunity to make a difference, not only for this company and this industry, but also for our region,” he said.
He experimented with weed while in college as he did his undergraduate work at the University of Michigan and later received his Ph.D. from the University of Washington. But he said it was the personal experience of having three family members - a son, his mother and mother-in-law - all battle cancer and noting the ability of cannabis to relieve pain and nausea during chemotherapy. Yet, there is scant research being conducted on the plant. His wife, Adrienne Silver, is a Kaiser Permanente pediatrician.
“As I learned about the efficacy of this plant for the potential in helping certain diseases, I wondered ‘why we are suppressing people's ability to do research? Why aren't we sharing knowledge?' This was another opportunity to make a difference,” he said.
Silver is taking a sabbatical at SSU from teaching. He said his decision to step down as dean had nothing to do with Judy Sakaki taking over as president a year and half ago. He applauded her student-centered focus after the 24-year tenure of Ruben Armiñana, which was primarily centered on tremendous growth of the 269-acre campus, signified by building projects as well as the courting of large donors.
Silver acknowledged that he thought about becoming a university president “at times,” but “really loved” being a dean. “The dean of the business school is a tough job, but it's a great job. Up until the day I left, I loved every minute of it,” he said.
His focus has now turned to CannaCraft, which was raided in July 2016 by local and federal law enforcement agencies, who seized cash and extraction machines that produced cannabis oils. Co-founder Dennis Hunter was later arrested. Though the case has not been resolved, CannaCraft has secured a license with the city of Santa Rosa for its manufacturing. (Darius Anderson, managing partner of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat, is a lobbyist for the company.)
He compared his role at CannaCraft to that of Eric Schmidt at Google. Schmidt took over as CEO of the internet company in 2001 to help guide and grow the business from co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, whose strengths were in technology, not business management.