ROBYN TANNENBAUM – PARTNER, HEAD OF ORIGINATION AND INVESTOR RELATIONS, AFC GAMMA (NASDAQ: AFCG)
Mrs. Tannenbaum has over 7 years’ experience focusing on mergers and acquisitions and leveraged loans to healthcare companies. Additionally, she has 5 years of experience as an investor relations professional within the finance industry. Mrs. Tannenbaum formerly served as Head of Investor Relations at Fifth Street Asset Management and as a Vice President in Healthcare mergers and acquisitions at CIT Group Inc. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in Finance, with a concentration in Marketing and a Public Relations minor from Lehigh University.
What is your proudest accomplishment in the cannabis industry?
My proudest accomplishment is starting AFC Gamma with my husband, Len, during the middle of a pandemic and convincing our partner Jon Kalikow to join us as well. We have now created the first publicly listed NASDAQ lender, employ almost 30 professionals, and are considered by many as the leading lender in the industry. I’m incredibly proud to be one of the co-founders of this company and am excited to build upon the growth milestones we’ve experienced in our first year.
Do you feel that the cannabis industry has more opportunities for female-identifying people than other industries?
I believe that the cannabis industry, because it’s newer and everyone’s coming in at the ground floor, definitely has more opportunities for females and has elevated more females to leadership positions. Two notable female leaders we work with on a regular basis are Rosie Mattio at Mattio Communications and Ariella Tolkin, the managing director at Jefferies’ cannabis practice. I believe that females are well respected in the industry and that this space is relatively more accessible to women who want to build their businesses from the ground up.
Do you feel you have to work twice as hard as male colleagues or do you think the industry has moved past that?
I’ve always worked twice as hard as my male and female colleagues, but I still believe that females have something to prove that men often do not. I remember reading an initiating coverage report on AFC Gamma and saw that I was called “Len’s wife.” No, I’m Robyn. I run originations for AFC Gamma. I’ve never seen a report where Len has been called my husband, so I think that as much progress has been made elevating females in the cannabis industry, there’s still more progress to be made. And I think that if you look at the leadership of large cannabis companies, the only large cannabis operator with a female CEO that comes to mind is Trulieve, and what Kim Rivers has done there is obviously incredible. And Jen Drake is very high up at Ayr, but other than that; the C-suites are still mainly comprised of male executives.
What was your biggest challenge in business and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge was deciding to start a fund in cannabis. This is an industry that was really only funded by family offices when we first started raising capital in 2019. There were many institutions that would not invest in a small fund unless you were NASDAQ or New York Stock Exchange-listed. So building our company from scratch and raising million by million from over thirty family offices to get the REIT running and off the ground before we decided to take it public was a challenge. And imagine doing that during COVID when all you’ve known is pitching and meeting people in person and now having to do everything remotely. So you’re basically asking people to trust you with their capital in a brand new industry that most people don’t know anything about.
In terms of overcoming this initial challenge, Len and I always like to talk about how we failed five times before we actually got AFCG started. There were partnerships or other opportunities that could have been helpful in raising capital, which all fell through, but we just kept going. While we were home during the pandemic, Len’s older boys – Stephen, Max and Adam, were with us, and every day they saw us fail and pick ourselves back up and go again.
What have you or your company done to help give more opportunities for women?
In general, female representation and diversity is an important topic because it brings a different perspective to a board and workplace. Our team is very focused on this internally, and we just added another female board member in Marnie Sudnow. We have an outstanding female board member in Jodi Bond, and supporting NASDAQ President and CEO Adena Friedman’s vision for diversity on boards and the inclusion of women is really important to us. Having more women on boards will perpetuate the cycle and lead to more women being on boards in the future due to their experience. Personally, now having a daughter of my own, I want Gemma to see the sky’s the limit when it comes to what a female can achieve, so I hope to continue fostering opportunities for women to shine.
What are your personal goals for 2022?
Besides getting in shape after having a baby last year, one of the things that I’m most proud of is launching the AFC Foundation at the end of last year. The AFC Foundation seeks to partner with our borrowers in states that we operate in and give back to charities that we vet in each respective community. These operators become a source of jobs and tax revenue for the states, but it’s even more vital for them to give back to the communities that they work in. We believe it is crucial for cannabis leaders to reinvest their resources and create new economic opportunities that benefit local residents. My personal goal is to get the AFC Foundation up and running and make impactful donations in partnership with many of our borrowers. While we’re doing well as a company, we need to also do well for the world.