Always take the high road. Do the right thing to help your employees personally and professionally and company success will always follow.
As part of my series about leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Roger Brown.
Roger has a passion for building innovative companies to fill the gaps he sees in critical industries. In 2008 Roger founded what became Florida’s first ever cannabis testing facility, ACS Laboratory. Today, ACS is the largest third-party testing and compliance operation in the eastern U.S.A. with proprietary methods to accurately test cannabis, hemp and all derivative products.
Prior to founding ACS, Roger was president of CMB Additives, an animal feed additive manufacturer. In 1996, he founded MD to You, a mobile physicians’ group that sent doctors to elderly patients’ homes and assisted living facilities throughout the state of Florida.
Throughout his tenure, Roger has owned or operated several medical businesses. Over the course of 6 years, he taught surgical procedures domestically and internationally using specialty instrumentation such as laparoscopy and surgical staples.
With this medical expertise, Roger launched ACS in 2008 as a clinical laboratory operating at the highest standards of accuracy. ACS’s methods were proven, but over time Roger had a new vision for the company. With the legalization of medical marijuana in Florida and throughout the country, Roger saw a gap that ACS needed to fill asap.
He promptly transformed ACS into Florida’s first cannabis testing company. Under his leadership, ACS has received 21 coveted Emerald Test™ badges, the most of any laboratory in the entire U.S. These badges prove cannabis laboratories’ ability to deliver reliable results, using standards established in the environmental, food, pharmaceutical, water and petrochemical industries.
ACS is also the largest laboratory in the state to be ISO17025 accredited, AHCA licensed, CLIA certified and DEA licensed. Its focus is to continually support cannabis companies’ ability to deliver clean, safe products in a manner that promotes positive standards throughout the industry. As such, ACS is the largest and most trusted cannabis and hemp laboratory in the USA.
Brown is a frequent speaker at national conferences such as The Cannabis Lab Conference, Concentration Conference and the Oregon Virtual Hemp Summit; an instructor and mentor at the CBD Training Academy, and a regular contributor at cannabinoid industry groups. He is also a board member of the Hemp Industries Association of Florida, which focuses on ensuring hemp reaches its full commercial potential in Florida.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have a long history in the medical field, which led me to launch ACS Laboratory in 2008. In the first 10 years, I ran ACS as a highly complex clinical laboratory in Florida. But in 2016, I saw an opportunity to start testing medical cannabis and I knew this would be the next evolution of the company. I wanted to leverage our millions of dollars of equipment and expert team of chemists and I acquired our first cannabis client in early 2017. Later when the Farm Bill passed in 2018, I expanded the business to include hemp and CBD testing as well.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
At ACS, we work hard to elevate this industry to a new standard. It was both concerning and rewarding to discover how different our methods truly are from newer labs in this space. For example, we recently provided test results to a client that were significantly different from the results they received from another facility. The client was understandably confused, so we dug a little deeper to discover the other lab did not have a scientific team with the same breadth of knowledge that ACS has in place. That was an “aha” moment and validation that we are on the right track.
Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The testing industry is still in its infancy and labs must learn from each other to raise quality standards and ensure accurate results. As of today, not all laboratories are created equal.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! We are a CLIA licensed laboratory, which allows us to conduct human pharmacokinetic studies. In partnership with a local university, we are currently studying the impact of cannabinoids on various medical conditions including COVID symptoms. These are cutting-edge initiatives, and we can’t wait to share the results.
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?
My father has always been a trusted advisor through my professional career. He’s now 94 years old, and I still seek his advice. Thanks Dad.
This industry is young, dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?
ACS is all about marketing through practical education tools. We share our systems and our science because we believe advancing knowledge is paramount to the industry’s success. It also fosters increased trust and partnership with future and current clients.
One example is our in-house testing training program, which we offer to large R&D clients. Through this program, ACS teaches customers how to accurately spot test products themselves using ACS’s own equipment and procedures. A win-win.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry?
One of the most exciting things about the cannabis industry is that it’s rapidly growing with no end in sight. In fact, Florida recently deemed cannabis as an “essential” business in the state. That is exciting news for ACS as a leading testing facility and for the future growth of the industry in general.
I’m also excited by the ever-changing product matrix in hemp, cannabis and CBD. From isolates, and transdermal patches, to oils, beverages and edibles, every new product challenges ACS to refine our procedures to guarantee accuracy. We love change, and we love challenges.
Finally, I’m excited about the opportunity for younger people to be involved in marketing this brand new commercial segment. I’ve personally worked with several young canna-prenuers and their passion to elevate the field is inspiring.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
My number 1 concern about the cannabis testing industry is false lab reports. In fact, my second biggest concern is false lab reports. I’m also worried about how loosely certain laboratories are adhering to regulatory rules. I’m concerned because if laboratories cannot be trusted to meet the highest ethical standards, people are at risk of consuming contaminated products. Moreover, regulators will be less likely to write favorable legislation, thereby slowing the growth of the industry as a whole.
Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”? Please share a story or example for each.
- I wish someone would have told me to immediately create avenues that inspire employee longevity. In the age of millennials, employees don’t always think about jobs as long term careers. At ACS we’ve developed incentives to ensure valued staff members continue to grow with the company in the long run. Team longevity is essential to business success.
- I came from a highly regulated industry prior to cannabis, but newcomers are not so familiar with how to operate under heavy compliance. I wish someone would have told me how challenging it would be to navigate a new industry that’s writing rules and learning how to follow them at the same time.
- The effects of the cannabis stigma on traditional business transactions like banking, leasing, financing and employment are far reaching. For example, I banked with Wells Fargo for 34 years. But when I started operating ACS as a legal cannabis testing company, Wells shut down the business bank account. This was a huge roadblock to overcome.
- Don’t judge a book by its cover. Some of the smartest people in the cannabis business do not look professional by traditional standards. But I’ve learned their appearance is not an indication of their intelligence or capabilities. It’s an indication that they are part of a new wave of pros who intend to operate as their authentic selves.
- Always take the high road. Do the right thing to help your employees personally and professionally and company success will always follow.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees thrive?
If you could inspire a movement to bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? First make sure your mission is clear and then be sure that your employees buy in. Remember, you are a person of great influence and employees will thrive if they believe in your company’s core goals.
For me, that movement is about transparency of information, sharing of science, and putting the patient or customer first. ACS employees support this movement and they work like diligently to embody it.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
I’m not a social media guy personally, but readers can follow ACS updates on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We also do a great deal of education through our weekly blogs on compliance, science, and innovation in testing.