How did I get into the dope business?
By: Bill Wednieski
When one door closes another door opens
In 2018, prior to cofounding The Headhunters I was the CFO of a financial services firm that had just struck a sweet deal to be acquired. The buyer was substantially larger and had their own CFO they liked very much. I had a few months runway to find a new job. I also had three kids, two car payments and a healthy monthly mortgage payment to worry about. My head was spinning but I’d been through my employers being sold twice before, and I knew networking was the single best way to find my next opportunity. I mentioned the pending sale to a friend I knew through my son’s school. This friend owned a sprinkler company that just installed a drip irrigation system for a cannabis grow about 60 miles outside Metro Detroit. The owner of the grow needed help with his taxes and accounting.
The gig economy
Millions of Americans have a side hustle – most common is probably the 1.5-2.0 million Americans driving for Uber or Lyft. For my gig, I became the part-time CFO of a cannabis business. It made sense given my tax background as there are some intricate tax nuances cannabis businesses face given the fact that marijuana is considered a federally illegal substance. The owner of the financial services firm was generous and allowed me to keep using my office as needed, as well as the firm’s tax software for a few months. I knocked out the accounting and tax returns, and the cannabis owner was delighted. And, true story: I was paid in cash that smelled exactly like the business it came from. Depositing it the next day gave me a few side-eyes from the tellers at Bank of America.
Covid-19, stimulus check and enhanced unemployment
In March 2020, the world was under siege from the disease caused by the novel coronavirus: Covid-19. First China, then Italy, and soon it was around the globe and in the United States, from big cities to the rural parts of the country. The United States began to shut down offices, factories and restaurants. Some 20 million Americans suddenly found themselves out of work and confined to their homes. Schools were closed and children and teachers were trying to figure out “distance learning.” When it counted most, the federal government swiftly passed unprecedented legislation with $1,200 stimulus checks to individual taxpayers and added $600 of weekly federal unemployment compensation on top of weekly state unemployment checks. The economy did crash but with a rapid “V” shaped recovery, and a major crisis was avoided.
When you tell people they can’t leave their homes, what do you think they are going to do?
Streaming services revenue went soaring as sporting events and live television were essentially canceled, and sales of alcohol and cannabis went through the roof. Just as easily as you can have groceries or a pizza delivered to your home you can get a guy to deliver you some weed. And in many states, including Michigan, it is perfectly legal. At my home, my niece moved in with us as she was single and the solitude of her living alone had her crawling up the walls of her apartment. At 5pm every day for 6 or so weeks we had quarantini time at the Wednieski house. (We couldn’t call it happy hour because everything was so somber – but we were all alive, together and nobody in the family had Covid).
The Michigan marijuana scene
In the fall of 2018, Michigan voters passed a resolution to legalize sales of cannabis for recreational use. It took a few years to determine which cities and townships would “opt in” to allow growing operations and dispensaries (nearly two-thirds opted out). It took some more time to sort out the winners and losers re: who gets a license. Once an entity is issued a license another challenge arises in how to finance their grow or dispensary as virtually no bank is allowed to lend money to a federally illegal business. These issues continue today, and in my opinion any cannabis business that even succeeds in legally opening its doors has already shown incredible determination. However, the Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency, or MRA as it is commonly called, has issued dozens of recreational licenses annually starting in 2019.
(^I know this is what a lot of people immediately think of when they imagine those who are being recruited into the dope business.)
The Headhunters and Covid-19
As the now proud partner in a recently formed staffing and recruiting firm the impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic was felt dramatically. And yet, we were very lucky. The clients that owed us money paid us. The clients that had offers extended to our candidates followed through and actually hired a few candidates. But, our order board began seeing cancelation after cancelation going from 12 open searches to 2, and then finally none. My partner Ryan Clark and I brainstormed. We tried a few things, including temporary staffing for Covid-19 recovery patients that had been released from intensive care. And, brilliantly we turned to cannabis and the network I had developed.
Can you change the spots on the leopard?
Ryan and I are both CPAs and finding accounting and finance talent comes naturally. Fact: I’ve still never tried marijuana in my lifetime. I started making some calls to cannabis business owners to inquire how I could help them. Boom. I was asked if I could find a “master grower” for a grow operation in mid-Michigan that had just failed some tests on a harvest that cost the company well over $100k in lost revenue. The company didn’t even have a job description, and the owner just said, “get me a West Coast guy with 10+ years experience that is not a dumbass and can lead my team.”
The most fun I ever had
In the buttoned up corporate world smoking dope is a faux pas. An accounting manager might be able to get away with smoking a joint at a Jimmy Buffet concert once in a blue moon but marijuana is still straight up taboo. In cannabis, candidates need extensive knowledge of products and growing techniques. Growing weed illegally in the black market is perfectly fine. If you do the math in 2021 you can’t really find people with 10+ years experience that did it all legit. In my opinion, a master grower or cultivation director is really no different or less respectable than a winemaking director in a Napa Valley vineyard. Product knowledge, the real and genuine kind, most frequently comes from using the products so I am now interviewing people that smoke marijuana daily.
Think about that from an interviewing perspective: in an instant, the way I had interviewed and been trained to interview did a 180 degree turn. I had growers sending me videos of their handy work, technical articles they had written, multi-million facilities they had designed. I heard wild stories from candidates of life-altering events like being robbed at gunpoint, being screwed out of equity and lots of them just not being paid. This was so different than anything I had ever done and I loved it. We placed our first master grower shortly after and that guy continues to crush it today both on yield (pounds produced) and THC content (a metric akin to alcohol by volume). Cannabis leaders and the industry are quite different and it can get hairy, so if you want to work in the industry I’d advise you to do your diligence with your contracts to ensure you are actually going to get paid.
Don’t tell anybody
I can honestly tell you that I never got into recruiting thinking about cannabis placements. In a small business, owners wear a lot of hats and naturally I handle accounting for The Headhunters. As I tied out the books for 2020 it shocked me looking back and seeing that we had nearly 15 placements in cannabis, and when I added it up nearly half of the firm’s revenue came from cannabis. In July 2020, we added Jennifer Barnett and she took to the industry like a moth to a light. Jen is crushing it! I’m proud to say The Headhunters have a bona fide niche in cannabis in Michigan, and we are rapidly expanding into searches in multiple other states too.