Don’t anguish over negative things that can’t be fixed until the next morning. In the businesses that I’ve chosen, what we do is not life or death, so I learned that it’s better to leave the day with a plan of attack and to let it go until then. Relax, spend time with loved ones, clear your mind and get a good night’s sleep.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kyle Kazan.
Kyle Kazan is the co-founder, chairman and CEO of Glass House Group, perhaps the largest privately held, vertically-integrated cannabis and hemp company in the world. Kazan oversees Glass House Group’s business goals, objectives and strategies for the company’s family of Eco-friendly, community-conscious cultivation, manufacturing, processing, distribution, retail locations and in-house brands.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Becoming the CEO of Glass House Group was the culmination of many years full of experiences that pushed me to grow as a person and as a leader. From being the point guard on my college basketball team, to being a teacher, a police officer, and eventually the owner of a successful and very large real estate business, I learned both by observation and by doing, as year after year the critical importance of leadership was borne out again and again.
Jumping into cannabis and leading a large and rapidly growing organization has been the greatest leap I’ve ever taken. During my time in law enforcement, I was actively part of the War on Drugs. I saw up close the widespread harm prohibition had on individuals and society, so I eventually became a fierce opponent of it. When legalization was stirring in California, I knew I could help by blunting the narrative of law enforcers who used scare tactics in an attempt to continue the failed policy. We have made and are continuing to make headway to end the destructive War on Drugs.
Given my background in private equity, I was able to assist the industry by finding access to much-needed capital. Now, I am the one responsible for those investments, a responsibility that weighs heavily in a new industry with a complicated history and a developing playbook. We have to build that playbook for ourselves as we go, and frankly that’s exhilarating. I take my responsibility as a CEO very seriously, but I also find it incredibly rewarding and exciting.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
My biggest challenge has been the federally illegal status of cannabis, which brings a whole host of obstacles. A lot has evolved quickly since 2015, but there was a period when people didn’t want to work in this industry, and their concerns were certainly justified. There was no access to banking. Raising money was very difficult. Using a payroll company — almost impossible. All the normal levers that I had as CEO of other companies were not available to me.
It was like living in a house your whole life with working heat, electricity, plumbing and running water, and then moving next door to a log cabin with nothing. Yet you’re still tasked with the same responsibilities: to pay taxes and treat your teammates every bit the same. On a positive note, thank goodness we’ve been able to recruit an amazing team who I’m proud to lean in with every day. These are people of character and resolve who have chosen to work in this industry ahead of the good decisions our federal representatives will someday make.
At the same time, because of the industry’s legal status, over 99% of typical funding and investment is sitting on the sidelines waiting. This presented a unique landscape — I knew there would never be a greater investment opportunity nor a better chance to make an impact on an industry.
I stuck with my gut and have been fortunate to achieve success in the cannabis space by building this business despite the variety of challenges. This has reinforced my belief that one can succeed if they persevere and follow through with their passion. Though cannabis is still federally illegal, it’s a night and day difference from just a few years ago. Outside of the federal government, the country has realized that the industry is here to stay, with more and more people seeking to jump in and make a difference.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
If I have any skills that I’m thankful for, it’s my ability to surround myself with smart people and align our interests. When it comes to the success of any venture I’ve been involved with, it’s all about the people who helped build it. I am in awe of the talent that has chosen to partner with me, and it’s always what tips the scales.
I also learned from a young age that failure is an orphan and success has many parents. In my basketball days, as a point guard, I took the brunt of the anger and disappointment my team experienced after a loss, yet when we won, I loved celebrating with my teammates. It’s the same situation at Glass House Group, but instead of walking away with a trophy, our team can build their equity and change lives for the better. When things don’t go well, I own that fact that the buck stops with me, but when things do go well, I love the party.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Personally, my goal is to be a positive force in my family as a dad, husband, son, brother and uncle. It’s imperative to me that I stay closely connected with my family and that I’m positive and active in all of their lives.
Secondly, I want to continue educating myself, especially given how technological innovation continues to speed up. I seek to learn something new every day and I’m constantly devouring books. As I grow older, I aim to practice a healthy lifestyle and increase my quality of life for as long as possible.
My chief professional goal is to be a good leader and to understand the needs of my team. I strive to make good decisions which help people grow. As the team grows, so does the company. In the cannabis industry, you must acknowledge that while we’re in an exciting and burgeoning space that does so much good for people, it is being built on the legacy of the War on Drugs. Many were hurt by that legacy — punished for violating the law in their efforts to help people with a plant that they truly believed in. We must not forget the tremendous pain and suffering that occurred in the past as we continue to build this brand-new industry.
Giving back to my community has also become incredibly important to me. I sit on the board of one charity right now and allocate some of my time to this work. For those who can, charity should be a passion. It’s all about giving back and helping those who need assistance, even if it’s just temporary. The smallest effort can have a massive impact on someone else’s life.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Watch out for overloading success. When I look back at some of the top-quality people I’ve worked with, many of whom were my best performers, I regret that I kept throwing more and more on them until they were overwhelmed, even though they welcomed the assignments. I wasn’t the best at governing workload and ultimately lost some great players as a result.
- Achieving work-life balance is very important, but everybody has to determine it individually and moderate it themselves. Efficiency plays a part in determining each person’s balance. I wish someone had reached out and told me to encourage work-life balance, to accept each team member’s individual preferences and to recognize that it changes constantly, depending on who they are and where they are in their lives.
- If you choose to be a CEO, you must integrate your family, or the people who are important to you, with your work. It is crucial that you are accessible to them and it is the only way that I have found work-life balance — by making work and life the same.
- Just because something is important to you, it doesn’t mean it’s important to everyone else. I like to apply the 80/20 rule to all forms of communication, where 80% of the time is spent listening while the remaining 20% or less is for speaking. People will share their interests if you listen.
- Don’t anguish over negative things that can’t be fixed until the next morning. In the businesses that I’ve chosen, what we do is not life or death, so I learned that it’s better to leave the day with a plan of attack and to let it go until then. Relax, spend time with loved ones, clear your mind and get a good night’s sleep.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
First, you have to find the cause of the burnout. Do you have so much on your plate that you won’t accomplish as much as you’re used to, or is there some other cause? It’s helpful to look at what you are capable of, determine what you like to do and have to do, then strive to work on what you truly enjoy. If you enjoy your work, no matter how difficult or how much pressure you feel, the risk of burnout is very low. This is a useful exercise that everybody should do at least once a year. This recalibration saves people and makes them happier and more effective.
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?
Quite a few people have had deep impacts on me that I still feel today. I respect, admire and seek counsel from each and every one of them, but if I had to choose only one, I’d say it’s my dad. He’s a self-made businessman who started a company and took it public on the NYSE as the CEO and Chairman.
My dad always made time for me when I was a child and never ceased to show an undying belief that I would be successful. It seems simple, but it’s critical to know that somebody genuinely believes you’ll always do well. From my adolescence to my college athlete years, to becoming a businessperson, husband and father, my dad has always been my North Star.
Along the way, I’ve also been lucky enough to meet successful professionals who took me under their wings. If you’re fortunate enough to rise to the C-suite level, it’s vitally important to recognize your good fortune and figure out how to utilize your influence to help the next generation. The ladder to the CEO seat is much longer and laborious for some than it is for others, and we can make a real impact by recognizing those facing a prolonged climb and offering our assistance. I think it is a moral responsibility to pay it forward.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
Opportunity is what made this country what it is today. People have come from all areas of the world to seek the opportunity that is America. I would love to see a legacy where I’ve led the charge in pushing corporations to be more inclusive and use their resources to bring those from the lower levels of our socioeconomic system into the C-suite — those who don’t see a feasible path up the ladder through a system that works against them. Many of these individuals don’t even know what the phrase “C-suite” is, yet where I came from, it’s part of the everyday vernacular and comes with very high expectations.
If we truly love opportunity and the American Dream, we must preserve it. In my efforts to contribute to this movement, I’ve set an initiative at Glass House Group to offer paid internships to those at the lowest socioeconomic levels who live near where our businesses are located. Throughout the internship, members of our C-suite will spend active time with these individuals. It’s important to note the importance of a paid internship program because many of these people are an integral source of income for their families and cannot afford to accept an unpaid commitment. If other business leaders can join me in a similar program like this today, then years down the road we will find a huge increase in the diversity of our executive leadership teams and keep the dream alive.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can check out Glass House Farms on Instagram for insight into the operations of one of the largest and most sustainable greenhouse cultivators in the world.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.