Andrew Dorsett: “Never let a crisis go to waste”

“Encouraging free-thinking and brainstorming from everyone has been a key asset is getting through tough times” — Andrew Dorsett In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crisis and how to adapt and overcome. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID 19 pandemic. Crisis management […]

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“Encouraging free-thinking and brainstorming from everyone has been a key asset is getting through tough times” — Andrew Dorsett

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crisis and how to adapt and overcome. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID 19 pandemic. Crisis management is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Dorsett, General Manager of SparqOne.

Andrew Dorsett is the General Manager as well as Officer of Distribution and Compliance at SparqOne. SparqOne is a rapidly-growing cannabis distribution company with hubs throughout the state of California that provide next-day delivery service to over 400 dispensaries statewide — an operation that requires organization, solid processes, and tenacity. Andrew spent 12 years of his life serving as a Marine in Aviation Ordnance and is a decorated veteran; Andrew attributes much of his leadership, resilience, foresight, and logistical expertise to those important years of his life.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

I was born in a small town in Southern Indiana. Although my parents divorced when I was very young, we were all very close and quite an interesting bunch. I spent a large portion of my time outdoors. Exploring, hiking, camping, etc. My paternal grandfather was an earth scientist and taught me a deep and abiding love of nature. My maternal grandfather taught me all the necessary skills to make it through life (finances, oil changes, handy work, calmness, respect, and tolerance). Immediately upon graduation, I joined the Marine Corps, where I served for 12 years. I received an honorable discharge in 2010.

And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?

I’m currently the Distribution and Compliance Officer for SparqOne Distribution. A cannabis distribution company based in Southern California. We have created an incredibly unique infrastructure that allows us to serve the entire state of California with next day delivery of orders, as well as robust assistance to dispensaries with education, compliance, and regulatory issues.

Can you tell us a bit about your military background?

Gladly! My primary military occupational specialty (MOS) was Aviation Ordnance. I dealt with aircraft weapons systems and explosives (rockets, bombs, missiles, etc). I also spent a little bit of time on helicopters due to new weapon systems we were integrating onto those platforms. I was assigned to units in North Carolina for my first 7 years. While there, I served in Kosovo, Iraq, Eastern Africa, and a variety of other locations. I spent my last 5 years in Okinawa, Japan. While there, I deployed quite often to a variety of areas throughout Asia. It was here that I started delving more into my interest in logistics and operations. I left the Marines in May of 2010 and began working in Washington DC doing Foreign Military Sales.

Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?

A military career is definitely what you make of it. You get exponential returns on what you put into it. There is such a variety of interesting experiences I had while in, it is hard to narrow down. However, one does stand out. In June of 2003, I was involved in a friendly fire incident in Eastern Africa. Two bombers inadvertently dropped nine 750 lbs bombs on our position. The bombing destroyed our helicopters and severely injured 9 of us. Unfortunately, a very close friend of mine was lost during the incident. The courage everyone showed that day is something I will never forget. The images of young injured Marines assisting others that were injured with no regard for their own wellbeing is forever seared into my mind. It taught me what loyalty is. What sacrifice means. What brotherhood and sisterhood truly stands for. The incredibly deep bond that all Marines share was cemented that day in a way that simply cannot be conveyed with words. During those long and painful hours, I further learned that a leader must always care deeply for those under their charge. It is imperative to build a cohesive group that has the ability and will to dynamically adjust under pressure and maintain a laser focus on the task at hand. Compassion, fairness, firmness, and clarity are essential in any organization.

We are interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.

The incident I just shared personified heroism. Every single person on the hill that day acted without thinking and without regard for their own safety. It was like the most meticulous plan put into action without actually having a plan. It didn’t matter rank, race, creed, or gender. Every person present acted to save lives. It was the injured helping the injured without exception. While the visuals were from the worst nightmare you can imagine; it didn’t faze us…until we were safe. The physical actions weren’t the only or even prime heroic things that occurred. The true heroism was what each person did in the subsequent years. Many, if not all of us struggled with the incident in the years after. Coming to terms with the loss and what happened that day was exceedingly difficult, but we did it. Each of us talked it out, we shared our feelings and our stories. We leaned on each other for support. True heroism is being able to reach deep inside and grab ahold of that inner human strength. It’s the courage to rise above a tragic or momentous event and persevere. Heroism is being there for our fellow humans when the need arises. It is integrity and truth in all regards. Heroism occurs in a variety of circumstances every single day. It is not the sole domain of the military or first responders and such.

Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?

A hero is one who does the right thing when all circumstances scream not to do it. It is rising above the fear and doubt that all people have and pushing forward. It is being true to yourself, your principles, and those around you. Crossing that mental and physical threshold of wanting to cower or run and instead stepping up and handling the situation at hand is heroism in its truest form. There are many levels and degrees of heroism, but they are all vital. Heroes are the ones who drive us forward in exploration, innovation, and societal progress.

Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?

The leadership traits and principles that the service taught have been critical throughout my life. I’ve molded my entire leadership approach with equal parts hyper-focus on the task at hand, trust in those who report to me, understanding and compassion for all, clarity and integrity, as well as developing strong processes and standards to ensure sustainment and repeatability. I was never one of those Marines to yell and scream to accomplish anything. That is actually looked down upon in the Fleet Marine Corps. The service taught me patience and understanding. The act of looking deeper into an individual’s motivations as an essential element in understanding why things occur has become a paramount focus of mine while in leadership positions. I have also always held a deep love of learning and knowledge. I, quite simply, have to know the why and how about something. Providing a clear picture to a team while also structuring a way forward are keys to success.

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?

This is so true! One will never hear me say “work for me” or “I accomplished this or that”. I believe that a humble leader is an effective leader. There is no way on earth that I could have accomplished anything without the assistance and guidance of many others. There have been three people in my life who have molded me more than any others. They are my stepfather Gary Calandro (passed in 2006). He taught me the importance of respect and integrity. My grandfather, Bill Toborg, who taught me the importance of loyalty, dedication, and hard work. Lastly, Master Gunnery Sergeant Ronnie Jones was a huge influence on my development. Ronnie taught me how imperative solid processes are and how to provide a clear message on the mission to anyone under my charge. He showed me how to get things done while treating people with compassion. He also taught me, quite literally, how to remain calm under fire. Ronnie’s mantra, and one I have adopted, is “show me the process”. These three individuals had and continue to have a monumental impact on how I live my life.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out how to survive and thrive in crisis. How would you define a crisis?

It was late 2005 and I had been in Iraq for about 10 months. It was an extremely dangerous and uncertain time over there. I had the opportunity to call home and speak to my mother for a bit. While conversing, she mentioned how she had a rough day at her office. Then she stopped and said “well, I can’t really complain, because look where you are”. It was at that point it occurred to me; my worst day in Iraq is no worse than someone’s worst day at the office. Anything can happen at any time and anywhere. Tough times are relative to one’s experience and expectations. A crisis is just something that is unexpected and can drastically affect the norm. It can be a huge event or a small one. Individual or civilization shaking. A crisis, by its very nature, breeds fear and confusion. It can also be taken advantage of, in either a positive or negative manner, by those with the focus to get through the event. A crisis is the truest test of strength at any level. Will it make or break a person or an organization? Is the foundation of that person or organization strong and ready to be tested? There was a statement a few years ago, “Never let a crisis go to waste”. While most view that in a negative manner, it can be turned into a rather positive thing! One should always learn from a crisis. Lessons should be gained on how to weather the storm, how to get better, how to adapt to change quickly, and how to care for those under your responsibility in uncertain times.

Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?

It is impossible to plan for every eventuality. However, it is possible to create plans that allow adaptability to nearly any situation. Creating a dynamic response plan and training the entire team on that plan is essential in getting through a crisis. Encouraging free-thinking and brainstorming from everyone has been a key asset is getting through tough times. For instance, when the COVID-19 issue first started making the news out of China, our company immediately pivoted to local sourcing for a lot of our merchandising and packaging. This allowed us to negate any supply chain disruptions that many others have endured during this event.

Lastly, it is important to listen to everyone in an organization. That means EVERYONE! The truly amazing ideas that come from the most unexpected folks never fails to put a smile on my face.

There are opportunities to make the best of every situation and it’s usually based on how you frame it. In your opinion or experience, what’s the first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis situation? What should they do next?

In the words of the great Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy): DON’T PANIC!

To successfully navigate a crisis or other unexpected event; patience, focus, and determination should remain paramount. The moment an organization’s leaders panic, especially in a public manner, is the moment the team begins to fall about. Far too often, the “shiny object disease” takes hold. Taking the path of least resistance or the newest flashiest potential solution can oftentimes lead to disaster. Striking a fine balance between taking decisive action but being deliberate is a dance that many organizations fail at. Strong and continuous communications, very clear delineations of authority, and development of an action plan with concrete milestones and deliverables should all occur. While a crisis can be demoralizing, maintaining that inner strength and camaraderie (individual and organizational) will go very far in coming out ahead.

What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?

Without a doubt, integrity, adaptability, improvisation, and calmness are key traits required in a crisis. The moment employees or competition sees the organization floundering or uncertain is the moment the grip is lost. While it may seem easier to slink back into your office and shut the door, that is the last thing one should do. Be the face of confidence and certainty. Talk with the organization’s teams. Let them all know how much they are valued and appreciated. Show that there is a path forward and that everyone can navigate that path together.

When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

The three people I mentioned earlier. My stepfather Gary, my grandfather Bill, and the greatest Marine Corps leader I ever served under, Ronnie Jones, all personified those traits without question. They were safe harbors and shelters in storms of uncertainty, doubt, and sometimes sheer terror. I have attempted to emulate their best qualities to the best of my ability. While I know that I can never and will never be able to truly match them and many others; I am certain that if I always do my best and demand excellence from myself, I will sleep peacefully at night.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

This is the dive-deep question, for sure. A few years ago, I hit the lowest point in my life. I made some stupid decisions and completely lost focus on what was important and what I was doing. Thanks to the incredible help of my girlfriend, I got the help I needed and came out far ahead. She motivated me to go to the Veterans Administration and get the assistance I knew I needed but was too proud to ask for. I realized that after the Marines, I never dealt with some of the trauma and experiences I went through, properly. I buried them and focused on work. That hyper-focus did not get rid of those experiences, though. They roared to life with a vengeance. I truly hit the bottom of the barrel. I was not myself. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t motivated. I had lost who I was and what I believed. I was in the throes of severe PTSD and I didn’t see it for what it was. I kept telling myself that I can push through it, I was not weak, I didn’t need anything or anyone. That was foolish of me and it cost me substantially. It cost relationships and money. It cost respect and wellbeing. It took a bit, but with a vigilant focus, we got through it. With family, friends, and my girlfriend; I rebuilt my life and came out so much further ahead. Further ahead physically, mentally, and spiritually. Simply and literally, she and a couple of others saved my life. Now, having the tools to deal with my physical and mental injuries from my time in the service has allowed me to become myself again. Because of what those wonderful people did for me, I have committed to helping others however possible, and being there for anyone in need. It’s what we must do as a species and as a civilization.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Crises not only have the potential to jeopardize and infiltrate your work, but they also threaten your emotional stability and relationships. Based on your military experience, what are 5 steps that someone can take to survive and thrive in these situations? Please share a story or an example for each.

I approach everything with a simple acronym that is near and dear to the hearts of any Marine. SMEAC. Situation. Mission. Execution. Administration / Logistics. Command / Signal. Before we get into that, I must state that it is so important to not take your professional life home. Never let it adversely affect your relationships or your emotional stability. I made that mistake and it nearly cost me my life. Maintain that separation and that clarity of purpose regarding each silo in your life! You and those around you will be much happier for it.

SITUATION: Assess the situation. Study it. Learn it. Consider obvious aspects and dig in to find the not so obvious. Without a solid assessment of what the situation actually is, you will almost always fail. One should never simply take an event at face value. Therefore we, as an organization, decided to pivot very early to local sourcing of many items. Being students of history, we realized that what was happening in China could and very well probably would affect the world in a substantial manner. We were clearly, and sadly, proven correct.

MISSION: This is the who, what, when, where, and why. The mission portion is where everyone comes together to capture a holistic view of what is going on and how to properly assign responsibilities. Milestones, goals, and expectations should be openly discussed and decided upon. In our case, based upon our initial assessments of the situation, we created a plan to bulk up initial inventories and concurrently created the avenues to local sources for our needs. Having substantial supply-chain experience; we were able to accurately determine the eventual disruption of cargo flow from overseas.

EXECUTION: This is the phase where the “rubber meets the road”. The plan has been developed, the tasks assigned, the intent of Executive Leadership has been fully disseminated, and everyone has their focus. Constant communication is do-or-die at this point. Having set those expectations, it is now up to the leaders to manage to those expectations. Accountability and responsibility must be clear, concise, firm, and fair. Without constant feedback and milestones met, it is very easy for everything to fall about. Process and plan control must be maintained at every step along the way. The blueprint, mentioned above, allowed us to flip the switch on the new plan quickly and without substantial disruption to our business model.

Administration / Logistics: This deals with a lot of the backend work. This entails taking care of your employees and making sure that supply-chains are strong and able to accommodate needs. Far too often in a crisis situation; personnel, consumables, and the down-in-the-dirt details are placed on the backburner. This is a potentially fatal mistake. Those folks and those details are what will get the company through any difficult time. When the crisis is over, those individuals will remember how they were treated and react accordingly. SparqOne made the commitment that we will persevere and take care of every team member. We have created an infrastructure and crisis plan that allowed us to not only keep everyone on staff during this current pandemic but also allowed us to add to the team. This planning enabled us to help out some of those people who are suffering so much right now with not having work or being able to pay bills. We began initiatives to assist our partner shops as well as the consumers and patients. One specific thing we did was create California Cannabis Cares. This initiative entails us dropping our wholesale cost substantially to shops that agree to also drop the retail price of our brands during the current crisis. We understand that at times like this people are hurting and we have the ability to shape the industry to help them out, while still staying true to our principles and core values.

COMMAND / SIGNAL: This is where those milestones and expectations are reported, discussed, and adjusted as needed. An intense focus on the market, micro, and macroeconomics, as well as current events is required. The information flow is constantly tweaked, both up and down, to ensure that all necessary data points are available to stakeholders and interested parties. Dynamic adjustment is a trait that must be embraced and encouraged. At SparqOne, we instituted daily video and teleconferencing meetings for all department heads to discuss occurrences as they happen. These meetings are concise, on-point, and worthwhile. This constant flow of data and information is then compiled into action plans that are either subordinate or supplemental to our primary crisis plan. Executive Level meetings are then held every week in order to either approve, adjust, or reject those new plans.

Ok. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I never thought I would see myself in the cannabis industry. Having been in the military for so long, then in the government world, then in corporate America; I was hesitant at first to enter the industry. However, based on personal experience and countless anecdotes from fellow veterans, first responders, and average citizens; I have seen the immense help this product can bring. It is truly life-changing. I would love for the de-scheduling of cannabis at the Federal level and full adoption of legalization and/or decriminalization at every state level. A controlled and properly executed cannabis industry would bring untold financial and humanitarian benefits to all. It would significantly disrupt organized crime, it would help shore up local and state budget shortfalls, and most importantly it would assist those people who do not want to reach for chemical pharmaceuticals at every turn. Another point that is anecdotal, but important is the psychological aspect of cannabis. Everyone is moving a million miles a minute nowadays. Constant bombardment by social media, 24-hour news cycles, and more all coalesce to increase anxiety and a sense that life is being placed on fast forward. Cannabis would, basically, calm people down and maybe help them reconnect with what is truly important in this world and in their lives. It is a win-win across the board.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

Wow, there are just so many people whom I admire and respect. I think if I had to narrow it down to one person, it would be Elon Musk. His remarkable thoughts on how to move our society and species forward is inspiring. Space travel and expanding out into the solar system is the one thing that I believe can provide unity and prosperity to every person on earth. We have gone for so long without hitting that next milestone in exploration that to see Elon work to create the technology and to take those chances is motivating beyond all measure. Our future is in the stars and we need visionaries and doers like him to guide everyone along that path. The technologies and resources that will be created and discovered along the way will, I hope and pray, take us through that Great Filter to become a species that will sustain and thrive until the last star burns out.

How can our readers follow you online?

I try to maintain a very minimal presence on Social Media. I try to focus on substantive things. I’m always outdoors, exploring, or spending time with loved ones and friends. The best way to find me is via our website or directly by email at [email protected]

Verification links for the stories Andrew included in this piece:

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.

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