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Corporate to Cannabis

Apr 12, 2017 10:34PM, Published by Leland Rucker, Categories: Features, Cannabis News




Dasheeda Dawson was an executive at Target, Roy Bingham a whiz-kid English banker. Stormy Simon worked her way to president of Overstock.com, while Lindsay Kritzer marketed consumer health products at Kimberly-Clark. Linda Gilbert was a pioneering marketing researcher in the natural foods industry.

All were successful in their respective corporate areas, some in more than one. And what do they have in common now? All are now, in one way or the other, in the cannabis industry. For a variety of reasons, some corporate executives and leaders are moving from the world they grew up in for the challenge of one of the country's fastest-growing industries—one that's much more uncertain and still illegal on a federal level but offers more opportunities for creativity.

These are people who just didn’t quite fit into the corporate structure. It’s not that they didn’t like their jobs, or the prestige and compensation those jobs provided, but the cannabis industry seemed a more inviting way to bring their own specific expertise into a market that’s less restrictive and more creative.

DASHEEDA DAWSON
before:  TARGET
after: THEWEEDHEAD.COM

Dasheeda Dawson graduated from Princeton with a degree in molecular biology. She found that she was interested in more than just science and that she had a knack for telling stories, so she got an MBA from Rutgers in marketing and strategic management. She went into fashion, where she found success, developing a winning strategy that revived the Victoria’s Secret sports line. She later joined Target as a marketing executive.

The daughter of an educator who used cannabis openly—“We knew it was illegal but not necessarily that it was more taboo than having drinks or whatever,” she says—Dawson had been what she calls a “silent user,” especially after she found that cannabis gave her relief from inflammation problems she was experiencing. Though she passed company drug tests, she didn’t like having to hide her consumption.

She and her mom began discussing the nascent cannabis industry, and after her mother died a year ago, Dawson began thinking more seriously about a change. She moved to Phoenix, where she started TheWeedhead.com, a website and consultation business devoted to helping people and businesses overcome the stigma that still trails marijuana use. “We’re trying to make people understand that it’s a viable industry, and with many alternatives for them.”

ROY BINGHAM
before: McKINSEY & COMPANY
after: BDS ANALYTICS

Roy Bingham looks and sounds much like the former banker he once was. Born in England, Bingham wound up in the management development program at the National Westminster Bank, one of Britain’s largest, right out of college. He was good at his job, but after a few years he realized he was only proficient at one tiny thing in one specialized business, so he left, got his MBA at Harvard and began working for McKinsey & Company, a global management firm, where he found himself being asked to do the same kind of banking work he was trying to escape.

“After a few years, I was approached by a friend to start Health Business Partners, a merger and acquisitions advisory firm with a focus on the nutrition industry, essentially anything you could buy in a Whole Foods market,” says Bingham. “It was the start of me being more of a maverick interested in fast-growing industry opportunities at a very early stage.”

He got involved with SPINS, the huge data-research company for the natural foods market, where he met Mark Nottoli, who urged him to look into the cannabis industry. After starting the CanopyBoulder business accelerator, Nottoli nudged Bingham to form a data analytics company, a SPINS for the cannabis market. The resulting BDS Analytics develops data based on real point-of-sale transaction activity—a rarity in the industry. It helps clients and partners make smart decisions about everything from the products to sell to how to organize their stores and dispensaries.

That seemed a perfect fit for Bingham. “They knew all my dirty secrets and weaknesses, so they persuaded me to change from a conventional career to this industry,” he says, laughing. “I say ‘conventional,’ but I’ve always been attracted to these areas where people benefit and they tend to be a little fringe. So I was much more open than other people coming from a ‘conventional’ background.”

When it comes to consuming cannabis, Bingham says that he partook occasionally over the years if a joint was passed around at a party but was never that interested in it. “I would cough and sputter and not have a particularly good experience. My tender little lungs were not used to that.” He does, however, use edibles, mostly before bedtime. “I’m English, it’s hard for me to relax,” he says with a touch of dry humor. “On Friday or Saturday nights, I like to sleep until seven the next morning, and it’s almost a guaranteed success.”

LINDA GILBERT
before: CONSUMER RESEARCH
after: BDS ANALYTICS

For BDS Analytics, Bingham deliberately chose to hire people from outside the cannabis industry. He knew Linda Gilbert from his natural-food days. She was well-known for her consumer research on lots of products, including Viagra, amaranth, quinoa, and edamame.

Now she’s applying those same skills to launch a large, multistate survey of marijuana use habits for BDS to find out how large the cannabis market actually is in the US and what motivates people to use the products. “We want to hear views from across the spectrum, from those who think it should be illegal to those who think people should use marijuana every day,” Gilbert says of this ambitious campaign. “We don’t just want data. We want insight. We want to be able to incorporate the best practices of other consumer-goods industries to the cannabis industry. That’s why we’re getting into it. We want to help make it a smarter industry and accelerate that learning curve.”

“What’s most compelling to me is the wellness association,” says Gilbert, who lives in Pennsylvania and doesn’t use cannabis herself. “Unlike alcohol, which outside of wine for the most part, is not considered a wellness drink, with cannabis, that’s really different,” she says. “It’s important to get people to start to see it’s not about a partying experience like with alcohol, that there’s a higher value and purpose in this.”

STORMY SIMON
before: OVERSTOCK.COM
after: CANNAKIDS

In 2001, Stormy Simon was a single mom starting a job in the lower ranks of Overstock.com. When she left the Internet retailer last summer, she was the company’s president and its highest-paid employee.

As she got older, she had begun to feel less fulfilled in her career and began thinking of other possibilities. Which led her to one conclusion: “I’m really a fan of cannabis, especially its healing properties,” she says. But she was still deciding exactly where she would fit into an industry she believes in. “Some things you do strictly from passion.” Simon gave a talk at the most recent Women Grow Leadership Summit in Denver titled “Buy In … Don’t Sell Out.” “This is the tribe —they used that term a lot at the conference. I kinda feel I’m coming a little late to it, but I would love to get into helping women who are trying to get medicine for their kids.” With that in mind, she recently joined the board of CannaKids, a company with a special extraction process for oils and tinctures for children.

Her experience with other women at Women Grow conferences solidified her decision to leave the corporate world. “I had been watching the industry for five years and found it so incredible that legalization happened in my lifetime. I want to be part of that leadership,” she says. “I think that I could be helpful, and I would love to see women succeed.”

LINDSAY KRITZER
before: KIMBERLY CLARK
after: LUCIDMOOD

Lindsay Kritzer grew up in Denver and has always wanted to be an entrepreneur in her home town. She found success, eventually becoming global lead for e-commerce strategy at Kimberly-Clark, makers of personal health care products and accessories. Though she found the work challenging, she chafed under a system that rewarded the status quo over innovation and improvement.

“In many ways, if you see yourself as someone who likes to be able to be creative, corporate is probably not the right thing,” she says. “When you’re working on Huggies, your job is to not screw it up. You become a steward of the brand in its current position and make sure it’s as good when you leave as when you started. You don’t get to do anything cool.”

She has recently joined LucidMood, which has developed a blend of terpenes and THC for customized highs. It might seem a long way from Kleenex to vaporizers, but she doesn’t think so. “The difference working with LucidMood is that it’s still data driven, but there are guts and instinct that go into it, too,” says Kritzer.

She says she enjoys the cannabis industry because it gives her the chance to work with smart, creative people. “I’m talking to the same women, but about different things,” she says. “I can bring something to the mix to entrepreneurs, with a little help from my super corporate background. It offers someone the opportunity to have autonomy and to actually shape a brand.”

●●●●

SO YOU WANT TO WORK IN CANNABIS?
IN TALKING WITH REFUGEES FROM CORPORATE AMERICA NOW IN THE “ELEVATION INDUSTRY,” I NOTED A FEW COMMON ELEMENTS THAT THOSE CONSIDERING LEAVING THEIR CURRENT POSITION FOR A CAREER IN CANNABIS SHOULD PROBABLY CONSIDER:

{1} The most important is really the simplest: If you’re not passionate about and committed to what you’re selling, or marketing, or researching, don’t do it. Lots of people these days are dreaming of big bucks, but unless you’re absolutely dedicated to what you’re doing, you’re not going to find any more fulfillment in cannabis than you get in your current job.

{2} Know what you’re dealing with: Cannabis is still prohibited in most of the US. All cannabis businesses in legal states pay federal taxes without any deductions. There are still businesses that don’t have any access to the banking system. Some companies work with cannabis businesses but are not involved in the product itself, so you could consider an ancillary business (Sensi falls in this category) if you’re uncertain about the legalities.

{3} Start slow. Be ready to get your hands dirty. Listen and learn from the experts. Do your homework and research before jumping into anything. “Bring your skills,” says Stormy Simon. “But don’t assume you’re going to lead the way.”

{4} Find a company or business that can really use your specific proficiencies, whether marketing, branding, finance, or data research. You don’t want to find yourself in the same situation you were before you made the jump.



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