Liz Gehl is the founder and CEO of Gehl Search Partners, a talent recruitment firm that specializes in finding qualified personnel for highly regulated industries with a focus on positions in sales, marketing, strategy and planning, compliance, finance, accounting, and administrative roles.
We recently caught up with Liz for an interview about what makes a good cannabis industry employee and how her firm helps entrepreneurs find the right team. We hear a little about her process for cannabis industry recruitment, what lessons the cannabis industry ought to learn from other industries, and more! Read the full interview below.
Ganjapreneur: Could you sum up the role that Gehl Search Partners takes on when you work with a cannabis company?
Liz Gehl: We provide mid to senior level talent that can’t typically be found by posting a job ad or similar methods. We do our due diligence early in the process by building deep relationships with those we work with. The more we know about our client’s product or service and what drives them day in and day out, the more successful we are in our ability to represent their company in a meaningful way that resonates with the ‘right’ candidates. Our business has been and will continue to be very relationship driven. Our long-standing relationships have always been the best source of highly qualified talent for us. Talented people know other talented people and aren’t always willing to work for or with just anyone; they want to ensure there is a genuine sense of trust there. That when a recruiter is telling them about a company or role, it is not a sales pitch, more so a clear picture of what it will be like to work there. Spending over 10 years cultivating these relationships in multiple industries allows us to know the right people, or, know the right strategy in attracting them quickly. As barbaric as the term may sound, we truly are headhunters.
When did you decide to begin working with cannabis companies?
Shortly after opening my firm. Personally, I’ve been a medicinal cannabis patient for many years. I’ve never fit the stigma of what a “marijuana patient” was. I’ve always been a very driven woman working in human resources and recruiting. Passionate about the benefits of cannabis and knowing that there are a lot of other driven and professional men and women out there working in various industries who are afraid to speak up due to the risk of losing their job or feeling judged, I feel that it is important to continue to bring that level of professionalism into the cannabis industry. The amount of incredibly intelligent people already working in cannabis is astounding. The general public needs to see more of that. Also, by bringing in talent from outside industries to the cannabis industry, I feel that we will be able to grow the industry at a far more rapid rate.
What sorts of qualities do you think are especially important for somebody to work in the cannabis industry?
I personally think that those who are most successful and happy in their jobs are those who have a true passion for the benefits of the plant. Regardless of what many think, this is not an industry to work in if you want to get rich quick. It is still somewhat volatile. Rules and regulations continue to change, as we all know, so being nimble, resiliant, and adaptable are some of the key attributes we look for.
In general, what’s the most difficult part of finding talent for the cannabis space — and what’s the easiest part?
I’ll start with what is most challenging; many companies are still in startup mode so salary ranges are lower than they are for other industries (in most cases). Candidates, many times feel that there is a ton of money in the cannabis industry. I spend a lot of time counseling candidates on their salary expectations; digging through to find those who really want to be a part of building a business, not just for the monetary gain, but for the experience.
The easiest part is finding passionate, intelligent, down to earth people who truly want to make a difference. Many times, the empathy and sense of community shines through when you are speaking to those who have worked in the industry for a long time.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about the hiring/talent hunting process?
The biggest misconception by hiring companies I’ve found is that relatives or friends make the best employees. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes this does work out, however, the most successful companies in any industry are those who hire a diverse employee base; employees who bring varying skill sets and who think differently than those who are directly and personally involved in the decision making process. Personal relationships are tough enough, but throw in a supervisor/subordinate type of reporting structure and things can get really squirrely. Senior leaders who aren’t afraid to challenge ownership and bring new out of the box ideas, most frequently come from outside of their inner circle. The risk of losing a friend isn’t there, thus the focus is solely on growing revenue and market share and doing what is best for the company’s long term strategy.
What would you say are the most important factors behind an executive’s placement in cannabis?
For the candidate, the understanding that this is not an industry where you will get rich quick, at least not for most of us. In my experience, I’ve found that those who truly believe in the benefits of cannabis and want to be part of building something big, even if it goes against the status quo, are most successful. I’ve had candidates take significant pay cuts in salary with the understanding that they are on the forefront of a new industry and they are willing to take a calculated risk in order to progress the industry forward and hope that their career will as well. Most are granted substantial amounts of equity, but that is a risk. Obviously given what I do for a living, I understand this is a tough choice for many. We spend a significant amount of time getting to know our candidates to ensure this life decision is one that is comfortable to them, and the “risk” makes sense in the long term strategy of their career goals. With the client or hiring companies, we do the same due diligence; does this company have a clear goal and path to success? Is it a sustainable company where growth and profitability are not only achievable but likely? Once I am confident that all of the above align, a successful candidate/client match is easily found, and it is a long term fit rather than a quick fix.
What lessons can the cannabis industry learn from other highly regulated industries you work in?
The largest lesson, in my opinion, is that compliance is incredibly important in all aspects of your business. There are so many parallels with the alcohol industry and compliance is a big one. There are varying laws in each state from distribution to delivery (or direct to consumer) to what is considered “safe” growing or manufacturing practices. Given that cannabis is held to the most strict compliance laws we have ever seen, I think the two industries can learn an incredible amount from each other. Why should the cannabis we consume be held to stricter guidelines for safety than the beer we drink? By collaborating I think both industries can bring the transparency necessary to progress forward collaboratively rather than competitively.
What’s your advice for somebody who wants to be discovered and hired in the cannabis industry?
Reach out and build connections! Educate yourself if you are brand new to cannabis, regardless if you are a consumer or not, the education will pay off as there is so much for all of us to learn. Set yourself apart if you are a consumer. There are many, many cannabis consumers out there who are dreaming of a job where there can smoke or vape at work. Show who you are as a professional, what skills you have that bring value to the company and the industry, what you can do to help the industry out of the shadows of the “stoner” culture. That is what my clients are looking for-incredibly talented, skilled professionals who don’t necessarily fit the pot head stereotype, but have a deep understanding of the plant and its benefits.
Thank you, Liz, for taking the time answer our questions! To contact or learn more about Liz Gehl, you visit her company website at GehlSearchPartners.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.