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Azuca Presents on Whole-Plant Edibles at the Emerald Conference | Upcoming Industry Events | Partner…
As CEO of Everest Cannabis Company, Trishelle Kirk is pioneering the growing New Mexico cannabis industry – an unexpected turn for a leader who was not a cannabis user or enthusiast prior to 2019. Under her leadership, Everest Cannabis Co. has undergone a rebrand to address the new adult-use market in New Mexico. Before adult-use, Everest’s medical program was a leader in the state and has opened 4 new stores in the last 2 months. Kirk shares her thoughts on the impact of the state’s adult-use legalization, as well as forward-thinking practices that Everest employs.
Why cannabis? What inspired you to become part of this industry?
I fell into the cannabis industry. I was not a cannabis user. I knew very little about the plant and I knew very little about the industry besides that it was growing. I had been in renewable energy for about 5 years and was looking for a new opportunity when I met up with Everest’s owners.
When I joined in 2019, New Mexico was a medical-only state and very quickly I was able to see and experience the incredible conversations going on in our dispensary and amongst our team members about how cannabis has positively impacted so many people. I realized that I had a lot of ignorance about the industry and as our team educated me and showed their passion, I could see that the plant was doing so much good for so many people and I developed my own passion for the plant.
While I would say that the things that drew me to the industry were the complexity, the difficulty and the industry’s growing nature, I’ve come to appreciate the plant and the great things it has done for so many people. This is the most interesting job I’ve ever had.
Your previous experience lies mostly in the renewable energy field. Was making the transition into the Cannabis field difficult and have you found any connections between the two you were shocked to discover?
There are a lot of things that are the same in the sense. For instance, while both renewable energy and cannabis have become more mainstream, there are still a lot of new things and a change in policy can really disrupt each industry..
The other piece is when I was in renewable energy, I felt an incredible passion for sustainability and I found that that passion is just as relevant in the cannabis industry, specifically at Everest. We believe in throwing away as little as possible, and obviously, we have a lot of regulations regarding packaging and labeling which can make that challenging but that core belief of sustainability is something I think is very relevant in the cannabis industry just like it was in the renewable energy industry. A lot of people in this space are looking for the most natural way to get as much of the true plant as possible from the farm to the shelf, and that’s not incredibly different from renewable energy.
When I was in the renewable energy space, technology was changing so quickly. Every 6 months there was a new kind of technology and I’d ask, “how can we use that to maximize benefits for the customers?” That’s also true in the cannabis space. The industry is just so ripe for technological construction, and I enjoy how new companies come into the space with innovative ideas. Scientists coming in and saying, “we’re used to doing precision in other markets and there’s not a lot of precision in cannabis so how can I bring my precise instrument to the cannabis space?” That’s so exciting!
New Mexico legalized the recreational use of Cannabis just a few months ago. What are you most excited about from this news, and are you discovering anything that you weren’t expecting?
Watching the industry transition from medical to adult-use. We still have a robust medical program but adding in the adult-use customers has been a fascinating experience because they come from all walks of life. There’s not a single demographic that we don’t see.
The other thing that I found so incredible was how many people showed up when we opened up sales to adults over 21 this year. The excitement and enthusiasm of people coming into the stores and saying “finally, I can buy legal cannabis in New Mexico!” There’s just so much positive energy in the adult-use community, more than I expected.
I came into this industry with this stigma and some of the negative beliefs about cannabis and I expected that would be the case for a lot of New Mexicans; I thought it would take them some time to actually adopt the product, get comfortable with it and shop for it. I think that is true for a portion of people, but I’m amazed to see we’ve had over 35,000 people that we’ve never served before come into our stores in the last couple months. And that’s just us, just one company. The excitement and the enthusiasm for the plant, for the legal market, and breaking down this stigma has surpassed all my expectations and it’s just been absolutely incredible to see.
You made your transition into the Cannabis world in 2019 and have already become CEO of your company. If you could give advice to yourself 3 year ago with the knowledge you have now, what would you say? What is your advice for those looking to jumpstart a career in this industry?
I think I’d tell myself to buckle up! Cannabis is a wild ride.
I think the big message from me would be to trust your instincts, they’ve guided you pretty well. For people that are like “I would love to do that in 3 years,” just realize that everyone goes through imposter syndrome. Find yourself a good venture and find yourself some good friends. It’s a hard business and it’s hard to be at the top of an organization, but it is really rewarding and just because you don’t have all the answers doesn’t mean you can’t trust your instincts. I have a lot of advice for myself 3 years ago, and 1 year ago, and 6 months ago!
I think a big piece is that nobody knows everything, but we all assume that everybody else has all the answers. When you’re in an industry that’s growing and changing quickly, you can’t always make data-informed decisions — you have to make the best decisions with the information you have at the moment and keep going. There are times when you just have to trust yourself and keep going and trust your team and keep going which can be really hard.
Every day you don’t make a decision, you did; you made a decision to not do anything and that’s the worst decision you can make in a business like this.
While the percentage of women in executive roles in the Cannabis industry is about 22% nationally, Everest Cannabis Co. has nearly 40% of executive roles filled by women. How has Everest taken the steps to create a more even playing field? Do you think your efforts have any impact on gender equity in the industry as a whole?
One is we focus on first-run promotions. That is the first step, so when we’re looking at these entry-level management roles, we pay attention to who’s applying for them and we also pay attention to who’s not applying but that we think should. The second piece is the confidence gap. If you were raised by a person in a leadership position, or if everyone on the leadership team looks like you, it’s a lot easier to feel like you should also be a part of that leadership team. If no one else looks like you, it’s really easy for that confidence gap to widen to where you don’t even feel like you should try.
One of our hiring criteria is that the perspective the person brings to the team is different in some way from the rest of the perspectives. That’s how I really like to think about diversity. Do you have a perspective that will allow us to think about things in a way that’s creative and different and avoids groupthink? That’s a key part that we talk about in our hiring process which also really naturally creates a more diverse group. Every team member brings something of value to our company. If there’s something in your background or your experience that’s unique, we want you to bring it to the table because it allows us to do a better job of creating a better culture for Everest and serving our community. Most of the best ideas for our company have come from brand new employees that are asking “why?.” And I encourage that because if we don’t have a good answer, it means we should be doing something differently.
What’s next for Everest?
We’re really excited, we’ve opened 4 stores in the last 2 and a half months. We expanded our retail footprint and are looking to develop further in new communities. We’re continuing to provide education and high-quality cannabis products to the new adult-use market. We think there is an incredible opportunity for New Mexico, so we want to bring the benefit of the plant to more people.
We also want to make sure we’re continuing to support our medical market throughout this growth. Additionally, we love to talk to innovators and look for better ways to do things. We’ve grown a lot so now there’s a new opportunity at our new size to ask if there is a better way to do things, what kind of innovations are we looking at, what kind of product lines do we want to produce, who do we want to partner with? Azuca is a very big piece of that for us. What we love about Azuca is it provides such a positive and consistent experience for our consumers and we can utilize that for medical as well as new adult-use customers. That’s what they need to have such a great experience with cannabis and that is something we want to make sure we’re providing.
Trishelle is the CEO of Everest Cannabis Co, a locally-owned, vertically integrated cannabis company which has been in operation for seven years. Trishelle moved to New Mexico in 2011 and has enjoyed immersing herself in the culture and community of our state ever since. She is the proud mother of two elementary school children.
Trishelle received her MBA from UNM in 2014 and shortly after joined Affordable Solar, a local renewable energy company. After five years in the solar industry, Trishelle joined Everest in 2019 as Director of Operations. Under her leadership, Everest has significantly expanded their retail footprint, added a robust manufacturing department and vastly increased the cultivation footprint. Trishelle is passionate about maintaining a diverse, inclusive workforce which is representative of the demographics of our state, providing livable wages and offering competitive benefits that positively impact the Everest workforce and their families.
Azuca is proud to celebrate all LGBTQIA2S+ members in the cannabis industry, and the incredible work they perform paving a path for future generations to come!
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