Your work-life balance will certainly be jeopardized. Make time to remind yourself that business isn’t the only important thing in your life.
As a part of our series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mahja Sulemanjee-Bortocek.
Mahja Sulemanjee-Bortocek founded High Haven in 2019 after identifying innovative and necessary solutions for cannabis companies to scale while putting the consumer first. Mahja’s expertise includes five years of cannabis experience working in the Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio medical markets spanning various roles including Director of Marketing and Outreach and Chief Communications Officer. Notably, Mahja served as Interim Chief Communications Officer for leading multi-state-operator Grassroots Cannabis up until it was acquired by Curaleaf Holdings in 2020. High Haven is positioned to open vertically integrated cannabis businesses in Michigan and Illinois, and aims to build upon the company’s success in those markets to share the team’s operational excellence with states nationwide. Prior to joining the cannabis space, Mahja worked in healthcare business development for over 15 years and has a master’s degree in Public Health and Business Administration. Mahja’s passion to help others is evident in her valiant and persistent efforts in community service. She has been awarded and held officer and board positions for several organizations. Mahja aspires to bring awareness, safe accessibility, and compassion to the cannabis industry.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
My backstory actually starts all the way back to being 8 years old and moving to the United States. I was born in Pakistan, moved around to Dubai and London and then settled in the US. My father was a proud and successful businessman who had different businesses from retail stores, restaurants, factories, to gas stations. He was my first role model in business. I remember being 12 years old and helping my dad out at work. Dinner table talk on business was always part of our evenings and through osmosis I learned from case studies he shared from his experiences. As I grew older, I was fortunate to get a higher education and earn a dual master’s in public health and business administration. Prior to working in the cannabis space I worked in healthcare. It’s not quite as sexy as cannabis but certainly was a great groomer for compliance-based operations.
I’m married to a wonderful person, who has been incredibly supportive as I work long hours and travel to all sorts of places. His loyalty along with my family are the heartbeat of my dedication to my business endeavors. When I’m not working, I’m spending time with them and my two dogs or at the gym or dance studio embracing the opportunity to sharpen my muscles and stay healthy.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
There are so many ups and downs in the cannabis industry that choosing one interesting story since I started my career seems like sifting through flour to find salt. However, one I’m proud of comes to mind. When Illinois had a pilot program for medical cannabis patients, they were required to get fingerprints as part of the process to register with the state to get a medical card. It was a bottleneck resulting in tons of delays in getting patients access to medicine. Knowing this and seeing this happen to hundreds of people I started to speak with politicians about what was happening and a few of them were really supportive. In fact, one of the senators invited me down to the capital and asked me to speak to the deputy director of the state program to share my insights, which resulted in having fingerprints removed as a criteria for getting a medical card. I was also invited to be an honorary distinguished visitor on the senate floor as voting commenced. It was a pretty cool experience and I’ll always remember it as a highlight of work I’ve done to make cannabis as medicine accessible to more people.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The biggest mistake, rather lesson, that I’ve learned when I first started my career in cannabis is never sign anything you haven’t read or understood. While the industry is fun and exciting it is still a business and agreement needs to be in writing. The other thing is to make sure to pick partners and colleagues that are aligned with your values. Oftentimes as things grow in your business, and this is one way to ensure that the people you surround yourself with have similar goals and share your vision for the future.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It is a true and certain statement that achieving success cannot happen without help from others. I’ve been granted the good fortune of being surrounded by hard working colleagues. The leadership team at High Haven is nothing short of inspirational. Their integrity and commitment to doing the right thing is the backbone of our company. We work together closely at all hours just to meet deadlines. We rumble respectfully with each other to have our opinions be heard and we encourage each other to challenge our limits and the broaden the scope of work we’re comfortable with. The core leadership team at High Haven are the jedi of the cannabis industry and the future groundbreakers and headliners of this industry. I am forever grateful to them for protecting the vision of High Haven.
Ok, perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
The work I’m doing is helping leave a bigger impact on the health and wellness of communities I work and live in. My philosophy and motivations are driven by helping other well deserving people embrace an opportunity that may not have been given to them by others. If our employees need support, we want them to feel like they can come to their place of employment feeling safe because their managers are supportive and compassionate.
We also hope to bring sustainable packaging to all our markets. We monitor all our waste, find ways to limit energy use, and develop good manufacturing standards within all our operations. We also plan to hire and train talent in the “High Haven Way”, hoping to spread our message of positivity and grow the culture of employers supporting employees.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
My top five “lifestyle tweaks/hacks” are:
1. I do lots of deep breathing exercises before important calls/meetings/presenting. It helps me remove all of the extra thoughts flying through my head, so I can focus on the task coming up.
2. I love dancing around and pumping myself up before or while I talk to my team about new projects and assignments. The goal is to get everyone in an excited state that creates maximum teamwork and interest.
3. Practicing mental floss activities each day. Our team takes a few minutes to ponder a problem and how we can solve it, or consider a motivational quote or video.
4. We like to make time to exercise or go for a walk. Our team is encouraged to take virtual calls/meetings while exercising if appropriate.
5. During the pandemic I swept my floors furiously while on calls. It helped me stay focused and gave me a sense of satisfaction. I feel similarly about making my bed everyday. Every morning has started with a task well done.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I definitely think a lot of people would benefit from daily meditation. My own practice of meditation and mindfulness has given me a sense of calm during troubling times. Showing others that meditation isn’t something you have to learn or be afraid of. Meditation is just taking the time to sit in a quiet space and give the monkey mind with a million racing thoughts something else to focus on like a mantra or a breath to keep connected. There is so much research around the benefits of meditation and practicing mindfulness and giving people more accessibility to these tools would certainly be able to be most beneficial for the most amount of people. Hopefully this thinking will duplicate and inspire others to do good.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
1. It’s going to be harder than you think. Brace yourself and surround yourself with good characters.
2. Your work-life balance will certainly be jeopardized. Make time to remind yourself that business isn’t the only important thing in your life.
3. If you only walk on sunny days, you’ll never get to your destination.
4. Be weary of those imposing limits on you. They do not set your limits, you do.
5. Positive thinking will let you do everything better than negative thinking will.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health, and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
All these topics are important and have a special place in my heart. Over the last few years, however, mental health wellness is becoming a scarce reality for many. Without mentally healthy community members, all of these other areas will continue to decline. We tend to overlook small opportunities we have to sit and reflect, while the world is moving a million miles a minute around us and that can be overwhelming. Often, just going to work is a major stress point for people so it’s our goal to make our employees happy and connected to work they do, so they can manage their anxiety and stress levels appropriately. We believe that creating a healthy work environment may lead to healthier habits at home.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
You can find High Haven on Instagram @HighHavenLLC, and I am @Mahjabeen2982
Thank you for these fantastic insights!