You have to take care of yourself first before you take care of your company. Your body needs rest, and if you don’t listen to what your body needs, it’ll make you listen. We live in a culture that idealizes a “rise and grind” mindset, but to a very unhealthy and ableist degree. I have a disability and I cannot work 80-hour workweeks nonstop without crashing, and nobody, able-bodied or not, should have to do that.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Narmin Jarrous, Executive Vice President of Business Development and Director of Social Equity at Exclusive Brands, Michigan’s leading vertically integrated cannabis company.
Narmin graduated from the University of Michigan-Dearborn in 2018 with a degree in Behavioral and Biological Sciences and a minor in Sociology. From there, she went into medical sales, where she was promoted to Director of Marketing after just three short months. She left her role to run Exclusive’s Business Development department because her values aligned with the overall company mission of making clean and safe cannabis accessible to all while promoting social equity. She is the youngest executive in Exclusive Brands’ history and is hoping to make her mark on the cannabis industry.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I’ve always been interested in science and the human body, so naturally, I thought I wanted to be a doctor growing up. However, about five minutes into college, I realized that wasn’t what I was meant to do. I was working for a restaurant management company doing project management and sales, so I sent myself on a mission to find a career path that allowed me to put both my background in science and business skills to good use. I’m one of the founding members of Exclusive Brands and I led the team in applying for its initial licensure. When I graduated from college, I left for about a year to work for a medical equipment company. I thought that medical sales were best suited for me, but when I was given the opportunity to work for Exclusive Brands again, I jumped on it and never looked back. I’m very passionate about my work and being able to help increase access to cannabis. Helping the industry flourish has really given me a purpose.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I attended a conference where the president of our company was speaking on a panel regarding the state of the cannabis industry with some politicians and other leaders in the industry. About 30 minutes before his session was starting, he told me that he wasn’t going to be able to make it to the panel and that I would need to take over for him. That gave me about 25 minutes to have a panic attack, recover, fix my eyeliner, and go up there. It ended up going fairly well, but I’ll never forget the sheer dread I felt in the moments leading up to it, and how convinced I was that I was going to completely fumble it.
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’d really like to know if this question was written specifically with me in mind. I feel like my entire career is just funny mistakes. I once had someone say they were going to send me some flowers, and let me tell you, I love flowers. It turns out that they weren’t sending me FLOWERS, they were sending me FLOWER (as in, cannabis samples) which, in hindsight, makes a lot of sense. I learned that listening comprehension is key.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?
I’m a total control freak. I have big ideas, and when you’re not in a position like this, your ideas can be stifled. Having a position like this allows you to grow your ideas from scratch and watch them blossom, and it’s really fulfilling.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
I’ve always thought that executives have a clear vision and need great leaders to help them execute that vision. Executives do a lot of “big picture” work and other leaders in the company are responsible for making sure that work is done properly.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?
There’s nothing I like more than starting a project from scratch, watching it progress, and finally getting it up and running. Going from thinking about opening a store to having a grand opening or getting to finally launch a product that you’ve been developing for months is truly the best feeling. You get to share your work with the world and see how your efforts are directly affecting people. Having so much “big picture” work can be stressful because you don’t see your hard work pay off for quite a while, but when it does, it’s truly so rewarding.
What are the downsides of being an executive?
When you make a mistake, it doesn’t just affect you or your work, but the entire company. People rely on you to do your job correctly so that they can feed their families. Their livelihoods depend on you. So, it’s crucial to build a really strong organization. Not just for your or your success, but for the success of those who depend on you. My primary focus on a day-to-day basis is licensing, and if I make a mistake in that regard, there’s the chance our licenses get taken away which would leave hundreds of people suddenly jobless. No pressure.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
There’s a stereotype that executives, especially female executives, are heartless, cold, money-hungry monsters. I think that can absolutely be the case at times, but being in a position of power allows you to wield that power any way you choose. I’m lucky enough to work with executives that care about every employee we have. There isn’t a member of our C-Suite who doesn’t know the name of every one of our employees.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
People will doubt your abilities every step of the way. It doesn’t matter how accomplished you are, or how much success you’ve achieved. There will always be someone who wants to tell you how to do your job, even when you haven’t asked. Especiallywhen you haven’t asked. If I had a dollar for every time a man gave meunsolicited, incorrectadvice on how to do my job, I’d have enough money to pay for the anger management training I’ll inevitably need from bottling everything up.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I thought there’d be a lot more people involved. There are days where I don’t talk to anyone outside of my team, and sometimes I miss sales for that reason. I love talking. I could talk all day about absolutely anything. Weirdly enough, the people around me don’t want to constantly talk about licensing and regulatory affairs, I’m not sure why though.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive, and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?
I think executives should be people who know how to take accountability. If you can’t address your mistakes or missteps immediately and pivot to a new course to try and fix them, you aren’t going to have a successful business and you aren’t going to garner the respect of your employees. I think if we’ve learned anything over the last few months, it’s that only those who can adapt are going to thrive in our society, and you can’t change unless you address the reasons why you need to change.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Don’t feel the need to convince people of your capabilities. There are always going to be people who doubt you, even on your own team, and you can’t be one of them. You worked hard and you gained the position because of your talents. Nobody is owed an explanation beyond that. Be wary of the team you hire to help you lead. Make sure their values align with yours, and everyone has the same overall goal for your company.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have a great support system, but my two closest friends have been with me for the better part of the last 10 years and have probably had the largest impact on my life. They have always pushed me to know my worth and to choose being happy over being successful. This came into play when I was at a job that I didn’t particularly like, but thought I had to stay to “pay my dues” and further my career. I accepted that I was being treated horribly because I wanted to prove myself, and my friends pushed me to demand better treatment. When that didn’t happen, they supported my decision to leave that position to preserve my mental health and my integrity. They’ve basically helped me in every aspect of my life, but I constantly think about how different my career trajectory would’ve been if I hadn’t left that position.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I’ve worked hard to make sure Exclusive is helping make a difference with the cannabis industry’s inclusivity problem. We have a comprehensive Social Equity program that helps encourage people from communities that have been excessively policed due to marijuana prohibition to join the industry. It’s something I care deeply about and I work every day to improve and expand its reach. I’m someone who never feels like I’m doing enough, but I hope my work within Exclusive Brands helps increase access to the industry and helps increase access to safe and legal cannabis for everyone.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- You have to take care of yourself first before you take care of your company. Your body needs rest, and if you don’t listen to what your body needs, it’ll make you listen. We live in a culture that idealizes a “rise and grind” mindset, but to a very unhealthy and ableist degree. I have a disability and I cannot work 80-hour workweeks nonstop without crashing, and nobody, able-bodied or not, should have to do that.
- You can’t survive your days on nothing but coffee and gummies.
- You can’t do everything all the time. I can have a hard time delegating tasks, but trying to do everything, or be everything for people, is the fastest and most efficient way to burn yourself out.
- It’s ok to say no. This applies to so many things, but particularly media and speaking events. I love getting our company’s vision out there and speaking about my experiences, but as someone who is very careful about the way I articulate things, it can be exhausting to constantly be “on”. Work-life balance isn’t a joke. People don’t like to admit how much they need it, but work-life balance allows you to maintain your mental health and your career, and I think it should be integrated into every company culture.
- It’s ok to hate your job sometimes. It doesn’t mean you’re in the wrong career, or at the wrong company. It could just mean you’re having a bad day. You are not your job. You are not your title.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I am a diehard believer that the cannabis and healthcare industries need to be one and the same. They clearly both need major reform, first of which is helping the victims of both industries, which happen to be BIPOC and women. Cannabis is healthcare and is used so widely and so successfully to treat so many conditions. If we got to the point where cannabis could be covered by health insurance, therefore making it accessible to a wider range of people, I think we’d see a major shift in how we approach illness and whole-body wellness.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My mom always said, “Always remember that you aren’t better than anyone, but there isn’t a single person who is better than you.” I think we, as a society, have adopted this idea of what I like to call toxic humility. My generation built its entire aesthetic on self-deprecation and being transparent regarding our insecurities. While all this is great in moderation, I think what we see happening, especially with women and POC, is being expected to constantly be bringing ourselves down to maintain a modicum of modesty. My mom always pushed me to own my accomplishments in the same breath as my mistakes.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment 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 if we tag them
Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. I’m so inspired by her work. By refusing to yield to forces on either side of the aisle, by refusing to be bought, she encompasses so much of what I hope our future is. I think there’s a misconception that if you look up to someone that means you have to agree with every thought or idea they have, and I think AOC is showing that different people can work towards a common goal without agreeing every step of the way.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.