Vitura Health founder and Bali bombings hero Rodney Cocks resigns as CEO of cannabis group

Vitura Health founder and Bali bombings hero Rodney Cocks resigns as CEO of cannabis group

Vitura Health co-founder and former CEO Rodney Cocks

Rodney Cocks, the CEO and co-founder of digital health group Vitura Health (ASX: VIT), has announced his resignation amid a challenging time for the company – one of the few in the Australian medicinal cannabis space to be turning a profit.

News of Cocks’ departure was been announced in tandem with a request by the company for a share trading halt ahead of Vitura announcing “certain legal proceedings relating to a material contract”.

Since the original publication of this article, it has been revealed (on 23 April) that Code4 Cannabis (C4C) confirmed it would withdraw from a services agreement with Vitura subsidiary CanView, prompting the listed group to commence proceedings in the Supreme Court of Queensland seeking to restrain C4C from withholding services.

Cocks, who along with business partner Peter Righetti co-founded Vitura in 2017 as a 50-50 joint venture with Canadian cannabis giant Cronos Group Inc., has led the company for the past six years including its transition to an ASX-listed company in November 2019.

The company, which changed its name to Vitura Health in February last year to reflect a diversification of its business following the acquisition of medicinal cannabis group CDA Health in 202, was founded around the CanView platform which facilitates the linking of authorised medicinal cannabis prescribers with dispensing pharmacies and patients.

The group then bolstered its telehealth credentials last year with the acquisition of Doctors on Demand.

In December, Vitura Health announced the sale of its two-millionth unit of medicinal cannabis through the CanView platform which is supported by more than 4,100 pharmacist/prescriber customers.

In announcing Cocks’ resignation, Vitura Health has paid tribute to the CEO’s leadership in creating “the leading listed medicinal cannabis company in Australia” and presiding over a record profit in FY23 which led to payment of its second annual dividend.

“From a very small idea as a co-founder in 2017 we have grown Vitura to become an internationally renowned company that has delivered each and every day for our patients, prescribers, pharmacies, suppliers,” says Cocks.

“I am looking forward to supporting a transition between now and when I leave the company on 30 June 2024 - and seeing Vitura continue to thrive in the future as it enters its next phase growth.”

Vitura Health has not given any further information on the reasons for Cocks’ departure which comes on the heels of the company announcing the appointment of Robert Iervasi as chairman in February this year.

“On behalf of Vitura, I would like to thank Rodney for his contribution and commitment to the company over the last six years,” says Iervasi, a former CEO of Asahi Beverages, which owns Carlton and United Breweries.

“Key achievements during his tenure include co-founding the company, the IPO, acquisitions of CDA Health and Doctors on Demand, establishment of the Melbourne Distribution Centre and the build out of the CanView platform. 

“Rodney’s transition provides the board with an opportunity to also finalise the company’s future strategy for FY25 and beyond, details of which will be presented to shareholders in the coming weeks.”

Cocks, whose early career began as Australian Army infantry officer and who was later appointed as senior member of the UK Government’s counter narcotics team at the British Embassy in Kabul, remains a shareholder in the company. His co-founder Righetti and he are both graduates of the Royal Military College at Duntroon.

Cocks was awarded a Conspicuous Service Medal for his actions following the 2002 Bali bombings where, despite suffering injuries from the terrorist attack, he helped evacuate the injured from damaged buildings and provided first-aid assistance to survivors.

Although the Vitura Health business continues to deliver positive earnings results, challenges were evident in the latest half-year net profit of $3.27 million – down 57 per cent from a year earlier.

This is despite a 4 per cent increase in revenue to $59.97 million as the bottom line was impacted by one-off costs from the Doctors on Demand acquisition.

Doctors on demand helped bolster the revenue figure as sales volumes for cannabis products were marginally lower during the period, while margins also fell in line with industry trends.

In the FY23 full-year, Vitura reported a $13.8 million profit from revenue of $117.3 million, leading the company to issue a fully franked dividend of 1c per share.

Meanwhile, Vitura Health is currently undertaking a search to find a replacement for Cocks as CEO, with CFO Tom Howitt stepping in immediately to assume the role of interim CEO.

Financial controller Ben Cirillo has been named interim CFO during this transition period.

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