I had the pleasure of interviewing Liesl Bernard, CEO, CannabizTeam and CannabizTEMP. Liesl has more than 20 years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies searching for and placing executives all over the world. Her passion for finding exceptional talent and her curiosity to hunt down emerging opportunities led her to discover unmet talent needs of the Cannabis Industry and placed her in a unique position to head up one of the fastest growing Executive Search and Staffing firms in the Cannabis and related industries, CannabizTeam. Her fine-tuned ability to understand the underlying cultural and interpersonal dynamics of each executive search and her grounding in business enables her to deliver superior talent and cultural fit for each search they complete. Liesl and her team have developed trusted relationships across growers, retail, manufacturing, distribution, R&D and related industries in the US and Canada. Liesl started her career as a CPA with KPMG in Cape Town specializing in organizational development before joining global Executive Search firm Robert Half in Australia, eventually rising to Managing Director Executive Search in the USA.
Thank you for joining us! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My passion for finding exceptional talent and curiosity to hunt down emerging opportunities led me to discover unmet talent needs of the Cannabis Industry, and placed me in a unique position to head up one of the fastest growing Executive Search and Staffing firms in the global Cannabis Industry.
I left a very successful career at one of the world’s largest staffing firms and used my personal savings to start CannabizTeam. Today, CannabizTeam places candidates at executive and management levels in all verticals in the cannabis industry across the US, Canada, Europe and South America. I was also able to launch CannabizteamTemp to satisfy the need for temp and temp-to-perm cannabis jobs.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I think every day is interesting in the emerging cannabis industry. It takes a lot of creativity (and a strong sense of humor) to help transition talent coming from traditional corporate environments to the fast-changing, entrepreneurial cannabis space. It is also fascinating to learn why people are interested and passionate about the emerging industry. Everyone has a personal story and they are often very touching. I love seeing companies and people flourish when a successful match is made and I can sense they have “fire in the belly” to go to work again. It is truly what has kept me in staffing for the past 25 years. I love what I do!
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?
Dealing with the personalities and nuances of the cannabis industry is what makes it fun and interesting. It is truly a test of my emotional intelligence and business sense each day, as different aspects of the cannabis space are quickly emerging into a global industry. The biggest mistake one can make is to think that there is a cannabis “type”. People from diverse experiences, demographics and educational platforms are successfully running cannabis companies, and they should not be ruled out of the equation when staffing cannabis companies. We are fortunate to have a diverse portfolio of candidates and cannabis companies — it definitely keeps us on our toes and is super fun!
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Yes, CannabizTeam has done a superb job at placing executives at all levels of the cannabis chain and looking to expand our footprint in the U.S. over the next few months. Stay tuned for an announcement!
We also have a specific focus on women recruitment in the industry. CannabizTeam is a female owned organization and has seen more and more women approach the platform looking for roles in the C-suite and board level.
In order to answer to this, CannabizTeam created “Executive Women in Cannabis” events, which unite top female executives and leaders in the cannabis industry to discuss trending industry roles and their personal experiences, with women who are looking to join the industry. The most recent event occurred in Newport Beach, CA, and the next ones are already set for the coming months in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
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 have been fortunate to have many wonderful mentors in my life. One of CannabizTeam’s Advisory Board members, Matt Hawkins, Managing Partner at Cresco Capital Partners has been fantastic in helping navigate the industry and our fast growth.
This industry is young, dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?
CannabizTeam uses traditional platforms and social media to attract great talent for clients but, ultimately, our reputation and word of mouth referrals are our biggest and most authentic advertising. Testimonials from clients and candidates are always the biggest compliments and best form of advertising. Ultimately you are only as good as your customer service and the exceptional talent you find.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry?
1. Being part of a nascent industry is exciting within itself. I am able to help educate Generation Z about the cannabis industry as a prospective career choice, and being able to help seniors from other industries join the industry as consultants and board members.
2. Women are curious and approaching the cannabis and CBD sector, being able to connect them to other female executives and leaders in the cannabis industry to discuss trending industry roles and their personal experiences is very rewarding.
3. I am able to discuss a once taboo subject with my children — something I was unable to do before the legalization of cannabis in Colorado and Canada. I went from being the mom who was scared to say what her company does to being the “cool” mom in my teenage son’s eyes. They see how hard I work and respect me for taking a chance in starting a new business as a single mom under difficult circumstances. I hope all this inspires them in some way.
Can you share the 5 questions you should ask in order to successfully invest in the cannabis industry”?
1. How are you managing and leading human resources/staffing and general culture in your company?
2. Are you looking to hire executives from other industries? What skills are you looking for?
3. Do you have a corporate social responsibility program?
4. What are your business’ short and long- term goals?
5. Do you have an exit strategy?
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
As the industry grows exponentially, cannabis companies should look at HR and corporate culture as a key to investment success. Companies should ask themselves what investors would be looking at with regard to a company’s human resources, staffing, and general culture as indicators of the company’s health and ability to scale successfully.
It is rare to find cannabis companies that differentiate themselves solely on ideas or brands. It almost always comes down to execution. Execution is all about having the right people work together in a productive way. So investors — and good ones always do — start with management in assessing a cannabis company’s growth prospects.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amounts of good to the most amounts of people, what would that be?
I would start a movement in helping people realize that to follow their “bliss’ or passion in their career and truly being happy is the biggest gift you can give your family or the world around them. Choosing to focus on aspects of our life that we appreciate is a choice, and feeling deserving of a career you love makes that much easier. It is all something simple that I hope many accomplish.
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Thank you for all of these great insights!