Zenabis CEO Andrew Grieve Discusses Why He Passed on a Salary

How do you make an immediate, positive impact at a new job? How do you bring together the stakeholders in one fell swoop? Maybe you dress like a leader, wearing your best outfit. Maybe you show your dedication by being the first in and the last out. 

But would you forgo your salary?

That’s just what Andrew Grieve did when he became CEO of Canadian licensed cannabis producer Zenabis in January 2019. His decision to earn his income on a success basis is quite unique but far from new to him. “This [concept] is very consistent with the past approach that I’ve taken with pretty much every business that I’ve worked with,” he explained. 

Taking such an approach allows the co-founder of Agentis Capital to do something scores of CEOs fail to achieve: aligning with shareholder values.

While the news did generate buzz amongst shareholders and the media, he insists that was not the motivation for his actions at Zenabis or elsewhere. “I don’t know that I had any expectations in terms of shareholder reaction. The motivation for the approach was not to generate a shareholder reaction, but was to actually achieve alignment.”

The CEO doesn’t advocate for the success basis model to become the standard in any industry. His decision was, instead, based on intangibles that a choice few possess.  

“This is a compensation approach that you would only see in what I would call an ‘entrepreneur CEO.’” Andrew Grieve expanded on what makes an entrepreneur CEO. “An entrepreneur CEO may or may not be a founder, but they’re someone who has generated success in the past as an entrepreneur.” Those who fall into this category, according to Grieve, are more often inclined to take risks similar to that of an owner.

While any executive needs to be all-in on a company, no one should be expected to take on the risks of an owner, Grieve clarified. “That’s generally not something that most people would be willing to do, and it’s not an expectation that I would ever have as a board member.” He added, “I think it’s a relatively unique situation.”

With it being a unique situation, Andrew Grieve and other entrepreneur CEOs must be that much more selective about their work. He explained his approach to decision making for himself and the businesses he leads. “The way I evaluate decisions is not to look at the outcome, but to look at the facts that I had at the time and then determine whether or not the decision was appropriate.”

Grieve added that even if a decision fails to pan out with Zenabis, he stands by his actions. “Regardless of the outcome, from my perspective, choosing to align my compensation with shareholder value is appropriate.”

Talking points like alignment and cohesion were consistent narratives for Grieve during our call. The company leader explained how he believes they are important aspects of internal operations and partnership building.

Andrew Grieve Credits His Military Background

Grieve said that a significant portion of his mindset and approach to operations and partnerships are steeped in his long-standing service in the Canadian Forces. Originally enlisted in June 2003, he continues to serve as a Reserve Officer in the Canadian Army, where he is Battery Commander of 68 Battery at 15th Field Artillery Regiment, The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery.

The military presents another example of his unconventional approach to work and dedication to a team. While most of the Canadian Forces change units over their careers, Andrew Grieve continues to serve with his original assignment. “Aside from time spent on individual training, which has been extensive, all of my time at a unit has actually been with the same unit.” He touched on its importance to him. “It’s pretty awesome because then, really, your unit becomes family.”

He explained how the military helps forge these bonds. “The way the military generates cohesion is absolutely through shared sacrifice and going through tough experiences together.” 

Grieve detailed how this applies to work in the business world. “Part of the way to achieve that mindset with employees is to actually make it clear to them that there is some sacrifice from senior management.” He elaborated, “Senior management is not being paid. Yet, senior management is working 16 hours a day, seven days a week.” 

Shared sacrifice appears to be paying off in the short-term for Grieve and Zenabis. The CEO reported what he considers “an incredible transformation,” which includes drastically enhancing cultivation efforts, going from 250 kilograms of cannabis cultivated in October 2018 to 2,000 kilograms in August 2019. 

“I actually haven’t worked with a non-technology business in the past that has achieved this pace of growth, and growing this quickly is very challenging,” Grieve said of the company’s progress to date. 

The growth of Zenabis extends to the benefit of its partner cities. Grieve described the company’s commitment, which began years ago, to providing work in Atlantic Canadian towns like Atholville, New Brunswick. He pointed towards four core company values of compliance, responsibility, excellence and delivery of stakeholder value. 

While often mentioning shareholders during our discussion, Grieve made it a point to consider towns like Atholville as essential stakeholders in the company. “Stakeholders include our shareholders, our employees, but also the communities in which we operate.” Grieve said Zenabis currently employs over 400 employees at its Atholville location. 

Additional milestones for Zenabis under Grieve include a late September agreement with PAX Labs to become a brand partner. The move could prove to be significant with Canada now allowing concentrates, edibles and other products to be manufactured. Sales of such products will commence in roughly two months. 

Regardless of the outcome for Zenabis and its CEO, Grieve believes in his approach and its intentions. “In the end, pretty much every business is about people. It’s about culture. It’s about the approach people take to business. And the approach they take to their employment.”

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