Josh Lyon is the senior director of portfolio integration at Canopy Growth Corporation. He was previously the vice-president of marketing at Tokyo Smoke Brands.
So you want to work in the cannabis business? Here’s how I describe it:
It’s like driving a car while you’re building the car – oh, and the road itself is also being built.
It’s like very little else. Because, as we all know, up until just a few years ago it didn’t exist – not as a legal venture, anyway. Every day is new, and different, and uncharted. But the flip side of that means we’re the ones who have to figure it out as we go along.
This is a business that places tremendous value on people with unrestricted creative thinking. You’ve got to be absolutely comfortable with ambiguity, and able to make a lot of educated assumptions – because real-world data doesn’t exist to the level many would be used to. Sure, we’re compiling more and more of it and analyzing how best to tweak and adjust our approach, but this is not a sector where you can simply default to standard operating procedures – because they’re still being established.
And that’s what makes it exciting, even exhilarating. You need to develop Plan A, and Plan B, and then be ready to pivot on the spot and figure out Plan C because everything you built the first two on has changed. If you’re frustrated by curve balls and continual change, cannabis isn’t the career path for you. Traditional approaches to doing business – whether in product development, marketing, distribution or retail – which work in other industries often don’t apply here, and that’s what brings out the best in problem solving and creative thinking.
That said, there are some similarities with more traditional businesses: it’s an agricultural product, so the cultivation, the operation of growing facilities, equipment and supply chain management, while incredibly nuanced, are not too dissimilar from other ventures. And for me as a marketer, the perennial challenge of introducing a new consumer packaged goods brand, its range of products, and developing then telling a compelling narrative story is definitely there.
We place a massive emphasis on creative storytelling, which goes way beyond PR and marketing and into delivering a unique experience both through our stores and our products. And that’s where it gets really exciting. In cannabis, so much revolves around the journey of discovery. The consumers we attract are highly engaged and voracious with their questions, and both parties are equally interested and excited by the discussion.
So, to anyone curious about working in cannabis, I say you’ve got to have a true passion for it. You’ve got to believe in the power of the plant. And you’ve got to be prepared to commit to the industry – this isn’t a nine-to-five gig; it’s a life, and a career. It’s a rapidly evolving, constantly changing industry. Because it’s fairly nascent, and businesses within it are early days (in business years), it takes true dedication to making things happen – that doesn’t leave a lot of time for time off.
The opportunities are tremendous: whatever position you now hold, whatever core skill set you have, there’s likely a cannabis job for you. It’s a highly diversified sector: from R&D in the lab, to retail, to brands to marketing to sales, it’s the full gamut of roles.
Resilience and creativity are the key qualities for success, along with passion. Canada’s foray into legal cannabis is being followed very closely across the globe, and we are truly blazing the trail, so to speak.
And I can honestly say it offers one of the most unique and rewarding career challenges anyone can have.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
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