Trust the team. Once they are in place, youneed to trust the people to do their jobs and play their role. This can be one of the hardest things to do as a leader because you see the ultimate success or failure on your shoulders; and that’s not wrong. However, those team members must be able to see and know you are putting your faith in their abilities. That even if they stumble, you give them the room to learn from their mistakes and grow to be even better. I have made the mistake myself of not trusting the team on a consulting project, and it created one of the worst summers of my life. I felt as if I had to personally do everything on my own to compensate for the shortcomings of the team, which made me emotionally and physically impacted from the stress. In hindsight, I should have been honest with the individuals about my concerns and asked them if they had the ability to step up for the project. I should have provided the support and direction when they needed it rather than usurping their tasks, which does no one any good.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Beth Kotarba the Chief Operating Officer of Native Roots, one of the world’s largest cannabis companies, operating 20 retail locations across Colorado and currently the only US cannabis company awarded a license to open retail dispensaries in Canada. She is responsible for the production operation’s side of the vertically integrated company including cultivation and harvest, product manufacturing and supply chain. Beth came to the cannabis industry from the consulting world with extensive experience managing and delivering a variety of complex solutions to clients including process transformation, technology selections and implementations, business intelligence/performance management solution implementations, and large-scale project and program management.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I had been in consulting my entire career and working in a variety of industries helping clients solve their business challenges. Through a former colleague I learned of the opportunity to take a position leading operations at Native Roots. I was fascinated by the cannabis industry and felt this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I saw the rare chance to be part of the shaping of an industry and use all of my consulting experiences to help Native Roots lead in the operations space. Initially I feared I was not fully qualified for the position. I had no experience in actually running operations and even less experience with cannabis. Through discussions with the executive team at Native Roots, I realized my cross industry experience coupled with process and solution development expertise made me the perfect candidate and gave me the skills needed to succeed. I was terrified but at a place in my life that I was ready for the challenge. I knew very little about cannabis and I realized that the culture was going to be a huge departure from the corporate world in which I had always worked. Though the opportunity was compelling, I had to consider and recognize the level of risk as cannabis is still federally illegal. Even though the future was not certain, ultimately I took the plunge and have not looked back once.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Each day working in this industry has been interesting and a learning experience. Nearly every day I come home and tell my husband, “you are not going to believe what happened today.” One fun story was the day that GRiZ, a well-known musician for whom we grow a special cannabis strain, visited our production facility. He stopped by with one of the company owners and popped into the conference room where we were having a meeting. Initially I was a bit irritated that he just came in and disturbed the meeting. But the staff reaction made me quickly realize this person was a big deal — though I had no idea who he was at the moment. I quietly asked one of my staff members who was sitting next to me who this person was and why the team was so excited. Coming from the more traditional world of consulting, it was the first time in my career that I was able to interact with a popular musician as part of my job. Of course I had to get a picture with him like we were besties and I immediately shared it with my kids who definitely know GriZ. They thought I was the coolest mom ever.
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
During the interview process with my future boss, I asked about a term he was using as he described the scope of the operations I would be responsible to lead. In most interview situations, asking for clarification on jargon or terms that may not be common knowledge is appropriate and not really a mistake, though most high level and well prepared potential staff would know most industry terms or have done the research to learn the most common ones used in a new industry. A “cone” is a “joint” and one of the most basic products that we produce as well as general terminology for the cannabis industry. I had never heard the term and felt incredibly embarrassed that I had no idea about such a basic product, exposing my inexperience. I learned that I needed to immerse myself in the concepts, terms and products for which I was going to be responsible. As with any other industry there is a jargon but in cannabis the terms are part of a culture that goes beyond business. When the front line staff have greater understanding of the products than the COO it creates an interesting educational journey. I am so lucky that my colleagues and staff are very willing to share their knowledge and do not judge. I also think being honest and admitting what I don’t know shows a vulnerability that has helped establish a trusting relationship with my team. I brought a great deal of knowledge in other areas of business that they recognized but they saw that I was not going to come in and assume I knew more than they did about all things, especially a product and plant that held their passion.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I believeNative Roots is the gold standard of the industry. Not only are we one of the largest grow and retail operations, we have established and enforced business practices that demonstrate a level of integrity and compliance that is helping the country recognize the values of cannabis as a regular business. Our industry started with passion for cannabis but not necessarily deep business experience. Native Roots blends both the passion and business acumen. We are leveraging the outside industry expertise of staff professionals to build a business based on best practices from all types of other industries and applying them to the cannabis space. Beyond simply working at a job, the team at Native Roots is passionate about marijuana and it shows in our work. I have countless examples of interactions where I have learned how cannabis has impacted people in a positive way. I am continually amazed as I meet people how many members of our team are in Colorado specifically to join this new and emerging industry. It’s a movement as well as a business. For many, cannabis has made a significant positive impact on their life or the life of a loved one. While I have worked with many colleagues who have passion and work incredibly hard, I have never experienced working with so many people who share the passion for what they do.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
With such a young and evolving industry, we are constantly taking on new projects to improve what we produce and how we make it. One of our company values we live each day is imagination. We often build products and processes from scratch, though I try to incorporate best practices in cultivation and production, cannabis for commercial use is a brave new world. Today we could help an equipment manufacturer build a better tool for harvesting; tomorrow it might be to create an entirely new concentrate product; and the day after perhaps an overhaul of materials and protocols to improve our carbon footprint. I think the work we do here everyday helps ordinary people by creating and delivering a product they value. All we have to do is walk into one of the Native Roots dispensaries to see how the love we have in our products is equalled in the faces of our patients and customers.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
First you must believe in yourself and your capabilities as this will carry over to your team. I work in a very male dominant field and the majority of my management team are younger men, most of whom know more about cannabis than I ever will. Coming in, I feared how I would be perceived and if they would accept me as a boss. I asked a lot of questions and really listened to learn from them. In turn, I brought skills and experiences they did not have and they were able to learn from me as well. In my career I have never used the fact that I am a woman as an excuse for challenges in my progression. I choose not to think that way and I believe that is empowering.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Surround yourself with a great team at all levels. Take the time to nurture, support and grow the leadership under you and empower them to be successful. Respect is a mutual experience and will grow together. As you demonstrate the leadership qualities in yourself, you highlight what you value in their leadership skills, which in turn helps model that behavior throughout the entire staff. Their success and leadership will be your success.
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 about that?
I have had a great deal of help and support in my career journey. I had some wonderful women role models who paved the way for effective work-life balance and taught me to juggle career and family. Being in consulting, I had the benefit of both internal mentors as well some amazing male and female clients from whom to learn. I was fortunate that I had a boss and career advisor whom I respected greatly. He essentially helped me to be successful in my consulting career but was also supportive when the time came for me to make a career change. When I left Hitachi Consulting to move to a smaller local consulting firm, he told me at the time that I could do better and he thought I was taking the easy path — choosing to be comfortable rather than to strive. He believed I had more in me. That really stuck with me over time. The fact that he had more confidence in my abilities than I did forced me to reflect on my self-assessments to see what I was truly capable of achieving. It was a big reason that I explored new opportunities and why I wanted to take the position at Native Roots, which has ultimately led me to the COO position.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Native Roots has recently taken a hard look at our company purpose and values. These impact not only the nearly 600 staff members currently in Colorado, but those joining us in Canada and other states as this company expands and touches lives across North America. As one of the Native Roots executive leadership, I’ve been instrumental in the development of our Value of Community. Native Roots brings financial resources, service hours and attention to community organizations in the areas in which we operate. With a company-wide value focused on our communities, we can have a dramatic impact that continues to grow along with our geography and our company.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Pick your team with complementary skills and personalities. When I build a team or add another person, I try to take into account skills they bring outside of their role and the personality mix. Having all A type personalities on a team or dominant players without the addition of those analytical thinkers can create conflict even when everyone is driving toward the same goal. Think of yourself as the coxswain of the rowing team boat using each person’s strength to pull together in unison to the finish line.
- Acknowledge what you don’t know. You do not have to be the smartest one in the room. As a matter of fact, if everyone on your team has the same knowledge or less than you possess in each area, it limits your team rather than expands. Choosing people who know things you don’t means you go farther collectively than any one of you can go alone. My team knows I am building my cannabis knowledge and respect me for asking questions. Together we have to make important decisions that can have significant impacts on our harvests and production. I trust my team to know more than I do in their specific area and I am comfortable asking them questions to establish my understanding. Even something as fundamental as “what is a cone”. If I don’t, I could make a grave mistake for the company.
- Trust the team. Once they are in place, youneed to trust the people to do their jobs and play their role. This can be one of the hardest things to do as a leader because you see the ultimate success or failure on your shoulders; and that’s not wrong. However, those team members must be able to see and know you are putting your faith in their abilities. That even if they stumble, you give them the room to learn from their mistakes and grow to be even better. I have made the mistake myself of not trusting the team on a consulting project, and it created one of the worst summers of my life. I felt as if I had to personally do everything on my own to compensate for the shortcomings of the team, which made me emotionally and physically impacted from the stress. In hindsight, I should have been honest with the individuals about my concerns and asked them if they had the ability to step up for the project. I should have provided the support and direction when they needed it rather than usurping their tasks, which does no one any good.
- Model the behavior you want to see. How can you expect your team to live the characteristics you expect if you don’t expect them and demonstrate them yourself. Native Roots is in the middle of a deep customer experience project to rebuild the foundations of how we think about our company and our interactions with our internal and external customers. It is a massive and philosophical project that can easily be seen as having less impact on the daily life of our employees in many of their roles when in reality it is foundational. My own enthusiasm and commitment to the importance of the project sets the tone for my entire segment of the company. They must see my energy and excitement or the project will not be accepted and useful. That rests on my shoulders.
- Recognize the individual. Yes, it takes the whole team to accomplish the tasks at hand but the team is made of individuals. Giving a person credit for a good idea, a job well done, an extra effort or a success can motivate them, helping them to know they are valued by you and the rest of the team. A simple “thank you” can make the difference between retaining great team members and watching them move on to another opportunity. Research shows, especially in tight job markets, there is a great deal more than money that keeps people in their jobs — recognition is one of those.
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. 🙂
I hope that in my current role at Native Roots I can inspire a movement that creates more acceptance of cannabis and changes the perception and narrative around its use. Our company purpose is to Liberate Happiness and I have heard and seen so many examples of how our products bring happiness or relief to people’s lives. I hope my work can set a positive example and change the stereotypes related with cannabis. This is a business but it is also a movement allowing people to personally explore this plant and its value. By bringing the professionalism from my experiences to this leading company, I see the opportunity to break down barriers and stigma. I know my views have completely been rocked and changed since joining Native Roots. I want to make certain others can make a choice that could benefit them without fear or embarrassment.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.” ―Oprah Winfrey . I have found this to be so true and it took me too many years in both my professional and personal life to fully embrace this. Too often I would wait for others to recognize what I wanted. I always felt like my performance and results should be apparent and speak for themselves enough for others to recognize my desired direction and career goals. I expected others would somehow know the opportunities in which I was interested and seek me out for assignments or roles. I waited on others to make opportunities for me. As I started to be direct in articulating what I wanted and actively pursuing those opportunities, I started to see my career reach new levels. I believe I have my current position because I put myself out there and expressed my interest and why I felt I was qualified.
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Thank you so much for these inspiring insights!