Business Print

Female cannabis leaders share insights on the industry

Allison Gordon
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Women are leading the charge in cannabis, occupying some of the top spots in the industry as CEOs, growers, advocates, executives, and scientists. Here they share their advice with other women wanting to join the booming industry.

Alison Gordon (featured image)

Chief Executive Officer; 48North

Before entering the cannabis space four years ago, Alison Gordon worked for over a decade as co-founder and director of Rethink Breast Cancer, an organization that changed the language and perception of how to educate, prevent, and treat the disease. A recreational cannabis user herself, Gordon helped a close family member with stage four ovarian cancer gain relief from cannabis and realized there was an opportunity to educate and empower people by helping them rethink cannabis. She now runs 48North, a licensed producer focused on health and wellness products for women. In addition to producing, extracting, and creating brands, 48North has created content and a community brand called Latitude where female cannabis users can share their stories.

Advice to the cannacurious exec:

“As the first and only female CEO of a publicly traded cannabis company, I’m frequently in meetings where I’m the only woman at the table. Cannabis is a capital intensive business and to succeed at the highest level you need to learn the language of capital and finance. Many women have not been taught this language, as it has traditionally been the territory of men. But, it’s not rocket science! It just requires exposure and giving women the opportunity to be a part of these conversations. I was lucky enough to have mentors who brought me along and taught me the language and strategy of the capital markets. It’s exciting to see the women at my company spending time in meetings learning about business strategy and financing. This is how you change the gender imbalance in the cannabis industry C-suite.”

Nadia
Nadia Vattovaz

Executive Vice President, Finance; Fire & Flower

Nadia Vattovaz oversees all things finance for cannabis retailer Fire & Flower. After working for storied Canadian brands like Holt Renfrew, Maple Leaf Foods, and Canadian Tire, Vattovaz saw a unique opportunity within cannabis to help grow and shape a truly Canadian industry from scratch. And growth is without question what’s happening at Fire & Flower. Consider these numbers: the company is opening 17 stores in Alberta and Saskatchewan on October 17th, it’s planning to go public later this year, and is opening 100 more locations over the next two years. “Our goal is not only to be the largest cannabis retailer, but also the most responsible in the community,” adds Vattovaz. “And one that educates our customers so they can make informed decisions for themselves.”

Advice to the cannacurious exec:

“Cannabis is risky because it’s been an illegal substance for so long. I think women need to learn to take risks more and be comfortable with that. I think women can sometimes worry too much whether they’ve done the job before or whether they have the right skills. I took a risk on an industry and an opportunity with an absolutely stellar team. I did my homework and made sure I’d be working with people who were well-regarded in the industry. ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’ is the motto we have in our family. I feel as women, we are caregivers by nature and we care particularly about doing this right. We have our children and families to think about. We can add a lot to this discussion because of that.”

Natasha Ryz
Dr. Natasha Ryz

PhD, MSc, BSc, Chief Science Officer, Zenabis

Like many who have entered the cannabis industry, Natasha Ryz was inspired by the convergence of the professional and the personal. As a PhD candidate studying experimental medicine at the University of British Columbia, Ryz observed her husband effectively treating his chronic pain with medicinal cannabis while he was working on his master’s degree. Inspired by the potential health benefits of cannabis and driven to correct the stigmas and stereotypes surrounding its use, Ryz dove into the research, attended conferences, and learned the industry. Eventually, she landed in her position with licensed producer Zenabis, which has one of the largest medicinal cultivation operations in Canada. At Zenabis, Ryz oversees analysis, extraction, product development and research into potential future uses and medicinal efficacy of cannabis. “Opportunities for young researchers are unlimited right now,” says Ryz. “What the cannabis space can provide for research is just so exciting.”

Advice to the cannacurious exec:

“Ego-dropping and networking are the most important things. Drop that ego when you come into this realm. It’s like drinking from a firehose because there’s so much information and misinformation. Spend time getting to know people, attend meetings and conferences, and always keep learning. Whatever realm you’re a master of, figure out how to study cannabis in conjunction with that and you will add something new.”

Robyn
Robyn Rabinovich

Vice President, Business Strategy; TerrAscend

At 26 years old, Robyn Rabinovich is one of the youngest senior executives working in the cannabis industry, having started her first cannabis job the very day she graduated from university. Like many working in cannabis she wears a multitude of hats: her role involves ensuring each of TerrAscend’s business units is adapting to the new regulations outlined in the Cannabis Act. She also oversees the selection of product for both the medical and adult-use markets and works on international business development opportunities.

Advice to the cannacurious exec:

“This industry is full of firsts. As entrepreneurs, you will all undoubtedly appreciate that opportunity to showcase leadership in such a nascent area. That said, my advice is be present, actively participating in the vertical business anywhere you can, and look for opportunities to experience your own firsts. Volunteer in the harvesting process, appreciate the evolving science of cannabis, learn the Cannabis Act (which guides everything we are able to do as an industry) and be acutely aware of patient and consumer demand, which will guide the future of this industry.”

Tabitha Fitz
Tabitha Fritz

Manager, MBA Capstone Course at Rotman School of Management; Founder, The Green Tent

Tabitha Fritz is founder of Green Tent, an industry organization that  supports women and works to achieve gender parity on boards and in leadership positions within the cannabis industry. It comes down to how board members are chosen, she says. “While boards are frequently made up of experts in, say, growing or in cannabis marketing, those are few and far between in such a developing industry.” According to her, the main criteria should be financial statement literacy and consensus building. “You can learn the other things,” says Fritz. “It also takes a male champion to get women on boards. That’s what it’s going to take.”

Advice to the cannacurious exec:

“[This] is the year of the woman, and women are saying to companies: show me that you actually represent women and show me that you really care about more than your bottom line. Women purchase 75 percent of consumer packaged goods. They want things that are safe for their health from companies that truly care. As the cannabis industry continues to grow and evolve, and the players continue to emerge, what they believe and do is going to become more obvious to the consumer. Listen to the voice of your consumer. If [they] are women and want more women leadership roles within your company, you need to listen.”