I had the pleasure of interviewing Korin Neff. Korin founded Opinari Compliance Solutions because of her desire to share with her clients the best practices and cutting edge programming gathered over her nearly twenty-year legal and compliance career. She also is an expert at managing crisis, having successfully handled major litigations and regulatory investigations.
Korin spent fifteen years as in-house counsel at both Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies in various legal, compliance and privacy roles. Most recently, Korin was a Chief Compliance Officer of a global Fortune 500 publicly traded company, responsible for compliance, ethics, privacy and information management. Prior to that, Korin was a general commercial litigator at a law firm in a New York City. Korin has also helped to found two business ventures, including Opinari Compliance Solutions.
Korin has twice been recognized by Ethisphere as an Attorney Who Matters, received the NJ Biz Corporate Compliance Professional of the Year award and was designated by the New Jersey Law Journal as a New Leader of the Bar “40 Under 40 List”.
Korin holds a BA from Emory University and a JD from The American University, Washington College of Law. Korin also attended executive leadership training at both the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and New York University Stern School of Business.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story of what first introduced you into this business or helped you get interested in the business?
I have a chronically ill family member who has a disorder that recently became one of the approved conditions for cannabis use in New Jersey, which is my home state. After exploring many mainstream and alternative medical treatments, cannabis was a new possible avenue for relief. As a result, I began to network into the industry, digging up connections with former classmates and friends of friends who could help lead me in the right direction. It wasn’t until our first consultation with a cannabis prescribing doctor, that I learned that there was no an off the shelf product that would help relieve symptoms and as a result, we were unable to participate in the program. During that doctor’s appointment, it became clear to me that I needed to become part of the solution, but I needed to figure out how. After continuing to speak with those involved in the industry, it dawned on me that the principles of compliance are the same regardless of industry. I thought I could leverage my work developing and enhancing compliance and privacy programs for “traditional” business, and apply that expertise to the cannabis industry. I also thought that a broad-based compliance consulting firm that keeps up with best practices across industries would help bring the cannabis industry into the fold of traditional business.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting thing that happened to me since leading my company is the outpouring of support for the work I am doing within the cannabis industry. At first, I was a bit concerned that there was a stigma associated with being involved in this industry, as a compliance and privacy firm, due to the federal ban on cannabis. I have to say it has been quite the opposite. My traditional clients have embraced the fact that I have a passion for this area of compliance and that I’m working to bring mainstream compliance practices to the cannabis sector. Additionally, I’m surprised by how much I have learned by working with those in the cannabis sector!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I think that there is a misnomer that just because someone gets involved in the industry, they are an expert with the product. I quickly realized that there were a host of business terms with which I needed to get acquainted either because various state statutes use those terms or they are terms of art in the industry. I started to keep a journal of terms and read filings by public cannabis companies so I could get more acquainted with the nomenclature. The lesson I learned is that this, like many other industries, is complicated and as a result, it is very important to study up just like one would when working with a client in a more traditional industry.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
I have a few exciting non-cannabis related projects that we are hoping to begin after the New Year. On the cannabis front, New Jersey has made available six fully integrated cannabis licenses to add to its existing six licenses throughout the state. I am working with a minority-owned business that is seeking such a license. What makes this particularly interesting the company’s passion regarding Corporate Social Responsibility (“CSR”). So, aside from traditional compliance-related tasks such as helping write the company’s application, set up their business, find the right legal resources, and seek financing, they have provided me with the opportunity to work with them on the CSR front. To that end, I have helped them to formulate core values and we are currently working on a series of educational events to help start community dialog about the cannabis market, the history of cannabis and the positive impact the industry can have on individuals and communities. This is a very rewarding aspect of this project.
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?
I have had a series of fantastic mentors throughout my career, the CEO of Gibbons, Patrick Dunican, who first helped me launch my legal career at Gibbons, and the General Counsel of Wyndham Worldwide, Scott McLester, who taught me how to be a business lawyer. Both Patrick and Scott have been extremely supportive of my new endeavor, providing helpful guidance and contacts along the way.
Though, the group of people to whom I am most grateful is my family. My partner, Rui Barros, has been my constant cheerleader and there to lift my spirits when self-doubt inevitably shows up. Isn’t that the life of an entrepreneur? And, my three children along with Rui’s son have been equally supportive. Though, my kids’ support has not come without some honest questions. When I first told my ten-year-old identical twin daughters that Opinari Compliance Solutions was going to also help the cannabis industry, my one daughter, Malina, said “mom, that’s great. I’m going to be an entrepreneur just like you when I grow up. There is lots of stuff in stores and someone has to make it, so why not me?” I was beaming with pride, when my other daughter, Joelle, replied, “but mom, what will I tell my friends? You’re helping people sell drugs?” Of course, that led to a moment when the parent became the student. It dawned on me that there was a lot of work still to be done to destigmatize the cannabis industry and companies that provide cannabis ancillary services. It became important to explain the medical benefits of cannabis as well as the need for responsible adult use, where permitted by law. This is one of the reasons I’m so excited about the community outreach project I previously described.
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?
While social media and web presence is certainly important for any company in today’s day and age, I still think that there is nothing better than old fashioned networking and word-of-mouth referrals. There are quite a number of individuals and entities trying to enter this industry, so I think it is important to simply “get out there”. I’ve offered off the cuff advice, connected interested individuals to others within my network and just had general discussions about the values of Opinari Compliance Solutions and what makes us tick. It is a truly special partnership when I’ve been able to offer my expertise to companies that are also looking to make a difference. At Opinari Compliance Solutions, we think core values are integral to any business and believe in communicating them with our clients. We value acting with integrity above all else. We also value putting the client first to deliver exceptional services and products, Additionally, we value collaboration as we believe that by working together, we can leverage the collective genius. As a woman-owned business, we value inclusivity and the diversity of thought and experiences that come with such diversity. We also value giving back to our community to help those who may be in need.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
The three things that most excite me are: (1) helping to destigmatize a product that has the ability to provide medical relief to so many; (2) assisting cannabis companies and cannabis ancillary businesses to operate in a compliant and ethical manner, leveraging my experience in developing compliance programs for a variety of industries; (3) helping entrepreneurs navigate this industry with constantly new and emerging laws, to bring economic benefit to minority populations, municipalities, small businesses, and big businesses, alike. There are also a few concerning things about the industry, which includes: (1) the patchwork of state laws may lead to inconsistent product and governance over cannabis and cannabis ancillary businesses; (2) governments may not have the infrastructure to license cannabis businesses in order to meet growing demand; and (3) the lack of access to traditional lenders may lead to cannabis businesses getting involved with unsavory lenders with usurious interest rates. I am hopeful that the services that we offer at Opinari Compliance Solutions will help organizations alleviate some of these concerns.
Can you share your top “5 Things You Need To Know In Order To Run a Successful Cannabis Ancillary Company”? Please share a story or example for each.
(1) Stay on Top of the Changing Regulations or Hire Someone Who Will Do It for You. There are literally dozens of cannabis regulations being introduced on a daily basis, whether it be on the municipal or state-level. It is important to track those laws, understand whether it makes sense to lobby independently or with the help of a trade association and assess the impact of a given law on your business. We do this by working with clients to determine the areas of the law (note that they are often outside of the four corners of the cannabis space) that need to be tracked and relevant jurisdictions and then providing companies with an assessment of the impact of the law to their business.
(2) Understand What it Takes to Run a Cannabis Business and Become Familiar with the Supply Chain. Just because someone has chosen to join a cannabis ancillary business doesn’t mean that they know a lot about the product, as I mentioned earlier. Alternatively, because someone may know a lot about the product, it doesn’t mean they are equipped to run a cannabis ancillary business. Attend events, read public filings, study the law, follow influencers in the area, get involved with a trade association. On a recent trip to LA, I took a dispensary tour, which provided me with the opportunity to ask questions about the recreational market in LA and take stock of the various cannabis ancillary businesses necessary to run a successful operation. Like with any business, it allows me to speak the language of my clients.
(3) Speak with Those In Other Cannabis Ancillary Businesses. There is a lot to learn from those in other cannabis ancillary businesses so it is important to share war stories, best practices, and even referrals. For example, as someone focused on the compliance and privacy space, it has been helpful for me to network with law firms, financiers, media and technology companies. We all have the knowledge to share regarding how to start and operate a cannabis ancillary business, and synergies between our areas of expertise. And, there are often opportunities to collaborate on projects as we are all in this together. A trusted resource can never be undervalued.
(4) Don’t Only Focus On Cannabis. While your business may be just focused on cannabis, it is important to look not only at the trends of the industry but to also look outside to other industries within your area of expertise. For example, as it pertains to privacy and compliance, as I assist medical cannabis companies, we can draw on the experience gained helping pharmaceutical organizations. Or, as I work with dispensaries, which are cash businesses, I can draw on my experience developing anti-corruption programs using the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Similarly, in helping cannabis companies develop employee training, I can use best practices in training that are not industry-specific.
(5) You Have to Be Nimble. Because cannabis ancillary businesses support cannabis companies or other cannabis ancillary businesses, which are often young companies that are also grappling with changes in law, it is important to be nimble. There is nothing routine about working in this industry. The laws are changing, major players are shifting, the needs are changing and we are constantly refining best practices. Accordingly, it is helpful to keep your mind open to the needs of your client to provide services in line with legal requirements as operating above board is paramount.
Aside from your particular vertical, which other cannabis ancillary industries do you think have very strong potential in the next few years? Can you explain why?
I think cannabis management services is going to be a strong vertical in the coming years. There are individuals who have the funds to start a cannabis business, but with no operational experience. A management company can come in and operate the business using a fee-for-service model akin to the hotel management industry. These management companies can leverage best practices and allow for smaller “mom and pop” companies to compete with larger organizations.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
There are a number of things a CEO can do to help their employees thrive. First, give them a voice. While it is a CEO’s job to drive the mission of an organization, a good CEO hires people because of their expertise. Accordingly, it is important to listen to opinions and ideas as this can positively shape the direction of your business. It is also important to allow employees to understand the direction of the organization and the “why” behind decisions. This is especially true during the start-up phase of an organization as this will help people rally behind common goals. Moreover, take time to educate your employees on the nuts and bolts of the business by providing opportunities to attend networking events, learn about technical aspects of your industry and/or obtain certifications. Employee development is often key to retention, will enable them to hone in on their expertise and will help the business as well.
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. 🙂
To me, the greatest human emotion is compassion. To think, if everyone felt true compassion for others in this world, it would end, among other things, bullying, xenophobia, poverty, and racism. While I don’t have an idea for any grand movement, I think parents can do a lot to teach their children compassion. This can be done through open and honest dialog as well as leading by example so that those lessons spread through this next generation.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
On Twitter: [email protected]
or my website, Opinaricompliance.com
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Jilea Hemmings is the CEO & Co-Founder of Leaf Tyme. She is running a series on Leaders In The Cannabis Industry.