Curate Update: Leadership Lessons From Coronavirus and Cannabis

By Christopher Durso, Vice President of Content Development, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)

The theme of our upcoming Curate event at The Broadmoor on March 23–24 is “Leadership in Changing Times” — which right now means the developing situation around coronavirus. We’ll be incorporating a session on crisis leadership within the context of the epidemic into our program and will share more details when we have them.

Meanwhile, few places have seen such changing times as our host destination of Colorado, where the legalization of marijuana in 2014 has created business challenges and opportunities in equal measure. Helping unroll them for Curate attendees will be speaker Shanita Perry, founder and CEO of Budding Solutions, a cannabis consulting firm, who previously did technology and management consulting work for Fortune 500 companies. “I saw the opportunity to transition to the cannabis industry,” Perry said in a recent interview, “by bringing a much-needed skillset and professional services to the space.”

When did cannabis first hit your radar as a legitimate business opportunity?

In 2013, I was working on a supply-chain project for a large company. We were consolidating their service centers throughout the country, and I saw things happening in California as it related to the cannabis industry, but when I got there and I saw the opportunities that were available, it wasn’t a good fit. The industry wasn’t sophisticated enough. The opportunities weren’t aligned with real growth.

I went back for two years and worked more on corporate projects until, in 2015, Maryland opened up their process for licensing cannabis businesses. That’s when I just jumped in both feet first and haven’t looked back since.

What is it about this sector that attracted you?

Not only did it present a business opportunity, it presented the opportunity to do something amazing in terms of bringing this medicine to people. The economic opportunity is there, but we have a chance to right the wrong — the ill-intentioned war on drugs, where people were jailed for this plant, and black and brown people disproportionately. For the first time in my life, I saw an opportunity to work hard toward something that would not just be about making money, but would truly have an impact on people’s health and wellness, their freedom and liberties, as well as the opportunity to take advantage of the economic benefits of this amazing industry.

This is an industry that isn’t just young, but until 10 years ago was strictly underground if not illegal. What type of leadership does an industry like that need?

We’re seeing a different leader emerge in Colorado and in the country as it relates to these companies. We just saw one of the former CEOs of take over High Times. You’re seeing businesses shift with the times. Old leadership was stuck in their ways — this was a commodity that didn’t need marketing, it sold itself, and because it was underground you didn’t do a lot of the planning that you do for any other business.

Now we’re starting to see folks that have led Fortune 500 companies come into this space because the various transitions that other industries have had to go through over time are all things that we’re facing in this industry very quickly. You’re seeing people come from consumer-product goods, you’re seeing people come from the tech space, you’re seeing people come from pharmaceutical companies. We’re starting to see folks who understand that what they’ve done in other industries is transferable and much needed.

What are some opportunities for the hospitality industry in this space?

With Colorado being the oldest market, one thing that they didn’t do — and because they didn’t do it, other states didn’t do it, because they were looking at Colorado as the model — is consider social consumption, which is where people would actually consume the product. But because it was legal, you had an influx of tourists who were now buying the product. You also had a very established tourist economy, and there was no thought given to protecting people from illegally consuming, which then messes up their entire vacation and they’re left with having to deal with at least a fine if not a court appearance. It really takes away from the opportunities to allow people to come to Colorado and enjoy it and for other industries like hospitality to take advantage of that.

The hospitality industry has a huge opportunity to come in and provide a solution to an issue that plagues most legal markets, which is where people can consume. We’ve seen the Airbnb “420 friendly” model, where it’s not only allowed to consume but they’re actually curating the stay and the home is full of all of the smoking accessories. In some instances, there may even be partnerships with a dispensary to provide cannabis in this space. So, the hospitality industry has a huge opportunity in that way.

I know there’s the issue of smoking in general. We’re seeing hotels now go from just a no-smoking sign to [a sign with] a marijuana leaf with the cross through it. The hospitality industry has already started to adjust for cannabis legalization, but it’s been in a way that consumers really feel like, “Hey, you’re going to charge me a fee if I smoke here. I can’t smoke on the street. This wasn’t such a good idea to come here.” So there’s an opportunity to fill that gap — to not infringe upon the other guests but to carve out a niche where it is 420-friendly without imposing on others and without sacrificing any of the things that someone would want. What we’ve seen in the way of social consumption spaces has been a dank, dingy, basement-type vibe, but there’s an opportunity to have a more luxurious experience aligned with cannabis.

Curate is an exclusive benefit for HSMAI Organizational Member companies. To attend Spring Curate 2020 at The Broadmoor on March 23–24 or to learn about attending a future Curate event, talk to the primary contact for your company’s Organizational Membership or contact Stacy Gleason, HSMAI’s director of membership.

Categories: Marketing
Insight Type: Articles