Stay connected with your target audience. Find out what your customers like and don’t like about the current cannabis and CBD products out there. Keep a finger on the pulse of the industry. The market changes rapidly, so adjusting or improving your products to fit the preferences of your consumers is crucial. For example, CBD and cannabis beverages are starting to pop up, so that may be a potential trend in the industry.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Liesl Bernard, Founder and CEO of CannabizTeam
Liesl Bernard is the Founder and CEO of CannabizTeam, the world’s largest executive search and staffing firm focused specifically on the cannabis industry. Now based in San Diego, Liesl spent two decades doing specialized executive search and staffing for Fortune 500 companies living and working in many parts of the world. She founded CannabizTeam in late 2016 and today the firm has placed thousands of candidates at executive and management levels in all verticals of the cannabis industry across the US, Canada, Europe and South America.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?
I have always been passionate about being an entrepreneur, and in late 2015, an opportunity in cannabis presented itself. During that time, I was a single mother and senior executive leader at a prominent global executive search and staffing firm. A cannabis company approached me in San Diego to help them search for an exceptional CFO. However, my employer at the time told me that it was “firm policy” that no one working there could assist clients in the cannabis industry. That stunned me, as these were businesses licensed by state governments. So the opportunity was right there and I jumped on it. Now, CannabizTeam is the premier executive search and staffing firm in the world focused exclusively on the cannabis and CBD industries.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I serve on the Advisory Board of Sparks and Honey, a tech-led cultural intelligence firm in New York City. One of my most admired female role models is my fellow Board member Indra Nooyi, past CEO of PepsiCo. I was stunned at our last meeting when she came up to me and asked ME a number of thoughtful questions about the cannabis industry. Here was one of my personal business heroes and one of the most successful female CEOs of my lifetime and she wanted to talk about my new business. That reality drove home to me that cannabis is the industry for the 2020s.
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 was asked to meet with a medical dispensary chain owner in Los Angeles and wanted to go check out one of their stores before the meeting to better understand the business. I drove up to LA and walked in, and was quickly turned away because I didn’t have a medical card. That was an oops moment! But I am resourceful, and without disclosing any HIPPA info, I can tell you by the end of the day I was admitted to that store as a lawful medical card holder! And CannabizTeam got the assignment and filled it with a great candidate.
Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?
I think telling my sons, who were 12 and 15 at the time, that I was now recruiting in the cannabis industry was the most interesting conversation I had. At first they didn’t believe me. Then, when they realized I wasn’t joking, I was quickly elevated to “cool mom” status for at least a week!
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 am grateful for so many people who have made CannabizTeam the success that it is today. Starting with my business partner John Marshall, who co-founded CannabizTeam with me, plus my close friends and two sons who believed in me and encouraged me to jump in, and, of course, my early stage investors. Mostly I am beyond grateful for our first client, Medmen, who gave me a chance to live my dream. They have been through some difficult changes, but in 2016/2017 they were among the dominant players in the industry, and a truly amazing first client.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
CannabizTeam has recently partnered with the Last Prisoner Project (LPP), the non-profit organization focused on criminal justice reform in the cannabis industry. We started the CannbizTeam Aim Higher Program to support LPP’s re-entry programs with a targeted focus on training men and women with prior cannabis convictions on new interview and job search skills so they can get jobs in the cannabis industry. Former prisoners with cannabis convictions have a five times greater rate of unemployment than the general population. We knew intuitively this was an area in which CannabizTeam could really make a difference. We announced the partnership last month and will begin launching our training programs by the end of this year.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?
As a female entrepreneur, I’m passionate about gender parity and believe more has to be done to support it in the cannabis industry and beyond. To support gender parity, individuals can amplify women’s voices and ensure that they are heard. Individuals should stand up for women if they get interrupted or ignored in or outside of the workplace. It may seem simple, but it goes a long way. Companies can remove the gender pay gap, re-evaluate any potential barriers keeping women from senior-level roles, and diversify candidates and interviewers when looking for new talent. And, society as a whole can view and promote women as equal, as well as quiet the stereotypes that create gender inequality.
You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.
- The industry moves fast and changes quite often, so embrace the changes. Being flexible and learning to pivot is crucial to succeeding in this industry. When the pandemic initially hit us, many cannabis companies turned their efforts toward e-commerce and delivery services to continue thriving.
- Gain knowledge about the cannabis plant and how it works with your body. It’s also beneficial to know about the history of cannabis, so you can understand the cannabis culture and society. There’s plenty of free webinars; however, you can also sign up for full cannabis education programs. Green Flower Media is the leading company in cannabis education, offering programs for cannabis fundamentals, cultivation, patient care, compliance and more.
- Helping people is the core of this industry. The amazing cannabis plant has many benefits and has the potential to help everyone, and cannabis culture is all about helping each other. Give information away for free, provide free webinars, and find ways to give back to the community.
- Always look to network. The cannabis industry is growing every day, and the more people you build relationships with, the more potential you have to grow as a person and company. You never know what partnerships can come out of attending a virtual conference or simply reaching out on LinkedIn.
- Stay connected with your target audience. Find out what your customers like and don’t like about the current cannabis and CBD products out there. Keep a finger on the pulse of the industry. The market changes rapidly, so adjusting or improving your products to fit the preferences of your consumers is crucial. For example, CBD and cannabis beverages are starting to pop up, so that may be a potential trend in the industry.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?
- Five states (Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota) have cannabis legalization on the ballot for the November election.
- The number of people working in the U.S. cannabis industry is expected to reach 300,000 by the end of the year (according to MJBizDaily.)
- Although there’s plenty of work to do, there has been a lot of support for criminal justice reform to help people affected by the war on drugs. For example, Colorado Governor Jared Polis recently granted nearly 3,000 cannabis pardons.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
One of my main concerns in the cannabis industry is that there isn’t enough support for social equity and equality. Several organizations are fighting for social equity and equality, such as the Veterans Cannabis Project, Women Grow, and Equity First Alliance, but more needs to be done. We are considered to be a progressive industry, yet diversity is still lacking. Another concern I have is that cannabis entrepreneurs aren’t finding the financial support they need to set up their businesses — so many innovative entrepreneurs don’t have the opportunity to try and realize their potential. Lastly, there are too many federal and state government restrictions on cannabis research. We need to study this plant as much as possible to solidify the current benefits and discover new ones. Thorough cannabis research will help in completely dissolving the cannabis stigma. I would improve the industry by having cannabis companies set up social equity and equality standards, remove banking restrictions and remove cannabis research roadblocks.
What are your thoughts about federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?
I believe the federal legalization of cannabis makes complete sense. The first step should be de-scheduling cannabis so it’s no longer a Schedule 1 prohibited substance — which is an absurd characterization to begin with. My arguments to my Senator would be: 1) legalizing cannabis federally makes economic sense with additional tax revenues and hundreds of thousands of new jobs that would be generated by making cannabis an interstate commerce business v. the current intrastate only model, and 2) the cannabis plant provides countless medical benefits from simple relaxation to helping alleviate many symptoms associated with a variety of health conditions, including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s Disease, ADHD/ADD, and Crohn’s Disease.
Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?
I believe cannabis deserves a completely different status in comparison to cigarettes. Compared to cannabis, cigarettes are harmful to the body, addictive, and do not have any real wellness potential. Cigarettes contain thousands of chemicals with close to 100 being carcinogenic. In stark contrast, the cannabis plant is actually a source of good health.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
You have to have passion for what you do — a deeper “why”. My favorite poet Rumi says — “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” I really believe you have to come at life from your heart to experience true success and joy. You also need to create a clear vision of what you want to build in your life, and then be willing to go after it. Then, life will continue to surprise and delight us. I also truly believe in the quote by Mark Twain that says, “To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with.” I could not do this alone. I have the absolute best and innovative support, recruiting and admin teams in the world and share my passion for placing top talent with our clients every day.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think — especially during the pandemic — focusing on giving people good jobs and helping them find purpose and passion again is the greatest opportunity we have to make a difference. It is truly what drives my team. The cannabis industry is booming and there are so many new career openings budding everywhere. We are working in one of the very few industries that is growing. We can create hope and change for so many globally.
Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!