When it comes to talent strategies, cannabis companies are in a unique and somewhat difficult position. Because as they move through the business life cycle (from a start-up grow to scaling operation), there isn’t necessarily a pool of industry-experienced leaders to choose from.
That also means it’s not as easy as posting a job and waiting for applicants to raise their hands. Instead, you have to be resourceful, reach out to passive candidates, and find alternative people who possess the right qualities for the industry.
Luckily, there are plenty of great people ready to lead your cannabis company. Because we’ve helped dozens of industry leaders find, place, and retain their c-suite leaders. It just takes a strategic approach that identifies certain qualities for success.
To pinpoint the most general prerequisites, we decided to ask cannabis leaders from leading cannabis companies: What qualities does your c-suite need to thrive amidst a competitive landscape?
Here’s what they said:
First and foremost, you’re going to need a resilient c-suite who can navigate and survive the ever-changing regulations. Because as Nichole LeMay, Head of HR and Culture at Mammoth Distribution, says, “Anybody who’s worked in cannabis — even for a millisecond — knows it’s constantly changing.”
The industry is not federally legal yet, and there are drastic regulation differences from state to state. As a result, your leaders will require a great deal of flexibility. “[They will need] to understand those [state-to-state] differences, find how to structure your business and work with all of those [unknown obstacles],” LeMay explained.
She also noted that agility, creativity, strong change-management, openness and confidence are key skills for cannabis leadership. Because in an industry that’s still forming and evolving, your strategy might change often and rapidly. “[Company leaders] have to have that resilience to let go of the work going down one path and be willing to go a completely different direction altogether,” she shared.
2. Relationship Management
One of the less-known qualities is relationship management, and Sequoia Price Lazarus, CEO and Founder at Lazarus Naturals, explains why: “The CBD industry isn’t much different than any other nutraceutical. The only [difference] is the regulatory uncertainty and how that cascades into other supply chains and service issues.”
Due to the regulatory challenges, CBD and cannabis companies may struggle to do simple things—like open a bank account or manage the product specs. Lazarus advises that navigating this type of environment takes a lot of relationship management.
“Regardless of what you’re doing, you get rejected nine times out of ten,” he explained, “So, [your leadership] needs to understand that opposition and how to coax [their] way into relationships.” Meaning, you want to look for leaders who have perseverance, patience and a personable attitude.
3. Strong Expertise in an Applicable Industry
Because the cannabis and CBD industry is so new, there aren’t many leaders with that background. But according to Marcus Quinn, CEO of Your CBD Store, it doesn’t mean you can’t find equally successful leaders in an applicable industry. “[You need to] bring everyday experience into the industry, rather than trying to find it in the industry because it just doesn’t exist,” he explained.
For Quinn, he found their VP of Finance in the vape industry, and the experience helps them navigate the regulatory side. Likewise, his President came from a 20-year franchise background after running 40,000 stores across the country. And, according to Quinn, both leaders have successfully transitioned their backgrounds to CBD.
Thomas Rimbach, Co-Founder and CEO at Baked Bros, also shared this sentiment. However, he also added that your leaders should be more knowledgeable than you in any given subject. “To expand and help as many people as possible, [you’ve] got to bring in people that are much smarter and much more applicable to this industry,” Rimbach explained. And for him, that meant bringing on top talent from Apple and Scholastic, as well as hiring a human psychology major as their creative director.
4. Purpose Aligned Before Performance Proven
For Rimbach, it’s also vital to align leaders to company values before evaluating their performance. Because at Baked Bros, they consider themselves a mission with a company, not a company with a mission. “[That’s why] we only bring on people who are willing to fight for the same things we do,” he shared.
At Y Scouts, we agree with Rimbach because we’ve seen (via thousands of c-level searches) that purpose has to come first. Otherwise, it’s hard to create a sustainable team when everyone doesn’t align with your vision. “Because whether or not you disagree with an individual’s perspective, we can all unite around the same values,” he told us.
Then, once you’ve filtered out candidates who align with your mission, you can dive deeper into their track record. Rimbach says, “It’s something I feel so confident in right now because we’ve built a team that’s become a driving force. And it’s because we all unite around our values.”
5. Genuine Care for the Consumer
Lastly (and maybe most importantly), your leadership has to care about the consumer. They can’t have negative connotations about cannabis and CBD use, which means they also have to be open-minded. And LeMay believes the most successful candidates already have an affinity for the industry and what it does for consumers.
“Unlike a lot of other industries where [prospective leaders] are only focused on their subject matter expertise and may develop a passion for the industry later, cannabis has people already coming to the table with a passion for what it does and who it serves,” she explained.
Rimbach agrees and says that compassion is an important quality to look for as well. “We’re always making sure our decisions align with what the consumer needs,” he told us, “Because we want to prevent this industry from going to a corporate setting—where consumers are forgotten and get treated as a ticket.”
C-Suite Qualities for Sustainable and Scalable Growth
There’s no question that the cannabis industry will be a relentlessly competitive landscape in the next ten years. But if your company plants the seeds now (no pun intended), you can build a sustainable team, scale your operation, and find success far into the future. You must simply adapt your c-suite strategy and start seeking out leadership with these five qualities.