Faith — If you can’t believe in yourself, how do you expect your team to? To the same effect, you must believe in your team. there is an immense amount of faith that Salpy and I have in each other and to each of our abilities.
As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kellen O’Keefe.
Kellan O’Keefe has over a decade of cannabis industry experience and a demonstrated history of success in fundraising, strategic partnerships and brand development. Prior to joining Flower One, Mr. O’Keefe was an early partner and the Senior Vice President of Business Development at MedMen where he played an instrumental role in capitalizing and growing the business into one of the industry’s first national brands. Mr. O’Keefe has advised and worked closely with some of the industry’s most iconic brands such as Cookies, Old Pal, Lift Ticket’s, GPen, Nature’s Lab, and more. In his first year at Flower One, Mr. O’Keefe has completely re-built the companies brand partner program and implemented a number of key operational improvements resulting in dramatic increases to product quality, pricing, and overall operating efficiencies.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?
A lot of cannabis pioneers grossly underestimated the time and resources it would take to legalize cannabis and build a new industry. Most businesses do not go from launch to hundreds of millions in revenue overnight, it takes time and a whole lot of discipline and perseverance. Greatness is a process no matter what you are doing, and it is funny to think about how naïve I was in the early days of the legal cannabis industry.
Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
There are no shortcuts. There is no substitute for real experience and putting in the work required to achieve your goals.
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?
Absolutely. I have been blessed to work with some incredibly talented and passionate creators and visionary’s that have all helped shape who I am today. Perhaps none more so than my current partner and chairmen of the board at Flower One, Salpy Boyajian. She has always believed in me and inspired me to be a better person and leader. I am incredibly grateful for our partnership as we would not be where we are today without her.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
I couldn’t agree more and believe that is one of the things that truly separates Flower One from other cannabis companies. Our purpose is to share cannabis with the world. We believe cannabis makes the world a better place and that everyone should have access to quality cannabis at an approachable price. This commitment to delivering quality and value unifies our team and gives everyone a greater purpose and ability to get behind a final product that they can be proud of making.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
The last year was a very challenging one for Flower One. We were on the verge of bankruptcy and in a very bad position. Many suggested we had about a 1% chance of turning things around and tried to encourage me to explore other opportunities. I refused to accept this reality and what it would mean to so many people that I cared so much about. At that point I decided that failure was not an option and that I was going to do whatever it took to save the company.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Of course, and at other times in my life I probably would have. Our experiences change us and evolve who we are and what we are capable of. But ultimately, it’s all about the people we surround ourselves with as they are what drive me and give me the motivation to continue when things are tough.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Faith. If you do not believe in yourself and your team, how can you expect anyone else to?
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Honesty, humility, and transparency. There were times when things were so uncertain, we had to acknowledge that things may not go according to plan. You can be honest with your team and show them how you are prepared to face the challenge and hope you can inspire them to have the same faith and confidence in their own abilities and become the best versions of themselves they can be.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Straight to the point. Trust is fundamental to all relationships and things are never perfect. Our approach often sets the tone so choose where to start wisely.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
By establishing trust so that regardless of what the future holds your team knows they can count on you to make good decisions and lead them in the right direction.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
It’s all about the people. With the right people in place, you can handle the turbulence. Just keep going!
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times?
1 — Doubling down on bad decisions/failure to adapt
2- Panicking and making irrational and rash decisions vs being calm and making collective decision
3-Trusting the wrong people
4- Giving up
What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Keep calm and carry on. Stay true to your principles.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Cannabis has been fortunate to have seen increases to overall demand throughout the course of the pandemic. Our growth is limited by our supply and there have certainly been many challenges to the supply chain for almost every ingredient or material we use. Finding enough good people is also always a challenge for us as well. We’re hiring if you know anyone in Vegas that wants to come grow cannabis with us!
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
1- Faith — If you can’t believe in yourself, how do you expect your team to? To the same effect, you must believe in your team. there is an immense amount of faith that Salpy and I have in each other and to each of our abilities.
2- Focus — From my experiences with companies like MedMen and other early industry pioneers, there was a significant lack of focus, forcing companies to be spread too thin and therefore become ineffective.
3- Discipline — Growing quality cannabis is incredibly detail-oriented and requires very methodical protocols and disciplined teams to assure the plants are properly cared for.
4- Communication — As a leader, how you communicate your own confidence and fears can help set an example for the rest of the team. During a time of crisis, it is more important than ever to be honest so that you don’t lose the trust and confidence in your team.
5- Creativity –In order to solve complex problems, you need to be able to think creatively and outside the box. You also must be willing to accept solutions or ideas from places you didn’t expect.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are no shortcuts and there is no substitute for hard work.
The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.
I wish I took these to heart earlier in life but better late than never. Cannabis has taught me so much about myself, business, humanity, and these quotes have held true today more than ever as the industry evolves and separates the talkers from the doers.
How can our readers further follow your work?
LinkedIN, Instagram, Twitter and don’t hesitate to reach out. I love collaborating and believe the cannabis industry is full of some incredibly talented people with amazing ideas and visions for the future of cannabis.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!