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5 Characteristics of a Rock Star Cannabis Executive

What’s working for retail brands and why?

The cannabis industry has seen extraordinary growth of late due to increasing decriminalization and legalization across many states. In2020, cannabis sales hit a record $17.5 Billion, which was a 46% increase from 2019. Market analysts project that the cannabis industry could skyrocket to $100 Billion in the United States by 2030.  Cannabis is legal for medicinal use in 38 states and fully legalized in 20 states. As legalization continues to spread on a state-by-state level, cannabis companies will need to prepare their organizations for continued intense growth in the coming years.

As the largest executive search firm specializing in consumer and retail sectors, many executives in our network have shifted into senior operating positions or board roles within the cannabis industry. Based on our experience recruiting for cannabis companies, we have observed that the industry requires leaders with a unique background and skillset. Below are FIVE characteristics of a rock star cannabis executive.

 1) Agility

One of the most important leadership qualities needed to be a successful leader in the cannabis sector is agility. Within an emerging industry like cannabis, that is experiencing exponential growth, true leaders must navigate the unknown on a regular basis. Senior executives need to quickly adapt as industry regulations consistently impact all areas of the business.  Cannabis leaders can expect a departure from the predictability found in roles at larger corporations in mature industries. They need to build the bike while riding it.

 2) Resiliency

One word we often hear from clients when describing their ideal candidate is “resiliency”.  Make no mistake, there are significant challenges when it comes to operating a cannabis company. World class cannabis leaders typically have proven success in hands-on and fast paced environments such as private equity or venture backed companies, family-owned businesses or have founded their own company. Resiliency enables senior executives to bounce back from adversity and continue driving towards mission critical objectives.

 3) Best Athlete Talent

When conducting a search in the cannabis industry, our mission is to recruit game changing leaders.  Oftentimes, we prioritize candidates with a world class skill set over highly correlated industry experience, and refer to these candidates as “best athletes”.  They may not understand the nuances of cannabis on day one, but can quickly learn the industry and most importantly, propel the company to the next level. In many cases, these candidates bring early experience at an academy company, such as Procter & Gamble or Nike, where they built a foundation for their career, plus proven success applying the best in class frameworks they learned in an agile, fast paced environment where there is no playbook.

 4) Highly Regulated / International Experience 

Not only is cannabis a highly regulated industry, but due to the lack of federal legalization, there are many different regulations on a state-by-state basis.  Senior executives who have worked in consumer facing regulated industries such as alcohol and pharmaceuticals have an advantage in getting up to speed with the industry.  In addition, international experience, where executives are required to work within and understand the complexities of varying laws and regulations country-by-country, aligns well with the cannabis industry’s state-by-state regulatory environment. As regulations continue to change rapidly, it is critical for cannabis executives to understand how these shifts impact their growth strategy as new markets open up from a geographic and product category standpoint.  

 5) Culture Carrier

Because cannabis companies have been hyper focused on growth, many organizations have had little time to emphasize culture, mentorship and company values. The industry requires leaders to set and sustain a positive and inclusive culture across the organization. In addition, senior executives need to have a keen interest in mentoring and upskilling existing talent. More often than not, leaders who drive culture and invest in mentorship serve as talent magnets to attract other top talent to their organization. 

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