As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Kathryn Lawrence.
Kathryn Lawrence is the chief chemist of C3 Industries, bringing 15 years of research and development experience in laboratories around the country along with her passion for cannabis to lead the development of C3 Industries’ robust concentrate, distillate and edibles product lines.
Prior to joining C3 Industries, Kathryn served as chief chemist at SGCE US, LLC, where she led technology R&D projects as a member of the Core Technology Expertise Team, including the development of chemistry as well as acting as the principal investigator.
Among her many accomplishments, Kathryn co-authored several patent memos for in-house council on developed products and processes and focused on finding inexpensive materials to blend with Fischer-Tropsch waxes to make products intended for specific applications such as cosmetics, PVC and hot melt adhesives.
Kathryn earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry/toxicology and a Master of Science degree in chemistry from Eastern Michigan University.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
During grad school, I started out in the world of nanoparticles. From there I switched career paths into alternative fuels, a more environmentally conscious area that consisted of gasification, synthetic hydrocarbons, digestive plastic recycling, synthetic organic chemistry and laboratory safety.
When Cloud Cover Cannabis (C3 Industries’ consumer brand) explored the viability to set-up a hydrocarbon extraction facility, they reached out to me as a consultant for the design and operation of the laboratory. I was brought on to the management team at C3 in 2019 to plan, implement and operate the hydrocarbon extraction labs at our locations nationwide. Now here we are in 2021 with labs running in Michigan and Oregon, a lab in Missouri turning on this fall, and a lab in Massachusetts turning on Q1 of 2022. We also have a second, larger lab currently being built out in Michigan to support our new greenhouse grow. I’m so excited to be part of this!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
For me, the most interesting — and exciting — thing that happened since I started with C3 was this past summer when our Michigan Lab won the Michigan Cannabis Cup for concentrates. I am so proud of everyone that I work with that made this possible!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
As we were starting up the processing lab in Michigan, I was getting a crash course in hash production. I was on the vacuum ovens “working the muffins,” which is when the cannabis extract is extra gooey and hydrocarbons are still in the mix. The material is poured flat on a sheet and put in a vacuum oven to pull out the hydrocarbon gas. However, the gas doesn’t just bubble out like carbonation does in water; rather, the whole surface of the material will bubble up like a muffin top. Holes will form in the bubbles and the gas escapes when the bubbles pop. If you aren’t careful and pull too strong of a vacuum, the muffin will expand and touch the top or sides of the oven, pop, and coat the whole inside of the oven with super sticky hash.
Early on I was extra careful but I allowed myself to be pulled away from the ovens for just a moment and…. well… a moment was all it took. All I could do was laugh as I spent the rest of my day cleaning the oven.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My father ran the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Motor Vehicle & Fuel Emissions Laboratory in Ann Arbor. He not only inspired me to follow a science career, but he was also the kind of leader that people loved to work with. Any time I faced a challenge in my own career, he was always the first person I would go to for advice. Whether it was with regards to managing projects, managing employees, or even dealing with co-workers or employers, he always gave good insight. He helped me every single day.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
Stress is the worst! There are several ways I manage stress in my life: I meditate daily; I practice Qi Gong and Tai Chi daily; I play music or paint daily; and I enjoy nature everyday.
Meditation is a powerful tool for any major decision. If I am going to walk into an important meeting or talk in front of a crowd, I try to find a quiet place inside or outside to do 2–3 minutes of Qi Gong breathing to calm myself and focus my mind. My dad would say “just be prepared,” and these practices help me prepare.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
A diverse team offers a wide range of skills, knowledge, experiences, and perspectives. This combination leads to increased productivity, better decision making, faster problem solving, increased creativity, and innovation.
If you imagine your team as tools in the thinking toolbox, diversity ensures you will have all the tools you need for the job. A team doesn’t need a bunch of wrenches when they really need a hammer and a flat head screwdriver. You need a different tool for every task.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
You need to ensure everyone is treated fairly and equally. Everyone should have an equal opportunity for growth and advancement. No oppression or entitlement. That’s all that needs to be said.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
I think the executives have to keep the bigger picture in mind at all times. Their management responsibility is spread out over a larger area of the company. In my case, I am responsible for all of the laboratories, the safety of our employees, the equipment, and the quality of the products. I ensure all of our laboratories are functioning at the same caliber. It’s my duty to steer change over time in a way that fits the goals of the company.
In contrast, my lab managers are responsible for ensuring their labs are operating per our established standard operational procedures and that they maintain full compliance to their given state and local regulations. Their focus is on their specific piece of the big picture.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
I worry that people think we “have it made” but they don’t see us grinding away in the lab everyday. Executives have a lot of people and results they are responsible for, and they have very important leaders to report to with those results. With this level of responsibility I have experienced that my workload is the largest in my life… but also the most rewarding, and that’s what makes it worth the time and effort.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
The first challenge women face is others’ perception of their emotions. There is this stigma that women will be emotional so many women may feel the need to hide the emotions that arise. It’s an interesting concept because all people are emotional — regardless of their gender. Lately, more and more people in leadership positions and in the C-suite are willing to shed the mask and show their emotions. This type of energy is great energy in a workplace and for humanity.
Women also have to fight for respect. I have always had to prove myself, to earn respect where others receive it right off the bat. In my laboratory career I have had a few employees that did not act respectful of my acumen. It took a lot of extra effort to convey that need for respect to them, and it really obstructed our team and lab from running harmoniously. It slowed the rest of the team. I often wonder how much of that was related to gender.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
There wasn’t a big difference coming in as Chief Chemist. I think the biggest surprise for me is how deeply I enjoy the process of extracting and finishing the concentrates. I don’t get to spend much hands-on time in the lab these days, but when I do the best part is “all the smells!”
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
It takes some unique abilities to be a good leader, that’s for sure. People either lead by inspiration or by fear. It takes a lifetime of practice to develop strong inspiration-based leading styles, as does it to develop the technical understanding of your subject matter, at least in a broad enough scope to integrate it with the rest of the company — and the world. I was really lucky that my family accumulated this knowledge and then passed it onto me. I don’t know if I could have gotten here without them.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
I think the best advice that I was given may have simply been, “You made it here for a reason, so go do the best job you can.” For me, that translates to: don’t doubt yourself; have confidence; and get it done. You’re there because you have the skillset and because someone believed in you. You have every reason to believe in yourself, and your success comes down to you.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
If we each use all of our energy to contribute to the people around us, and to spread love, that is the greatest contribution we can each make. I am honored to be contributing my energy to the cannabis industry. These products are life-changing, plant-based medicines that can benefit all of humanity.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Honestly, I was brought into this position because of my unique skillset and knowledge base. For me, here are 5 things I am thankful I knew when I started (numbers two, three, and four came from my father):
- Communication is key! Open those communication lines. Every time I walk through one of our labs, I make sure to stop and check in with the technicians. All of them have my number, and all know that they can reach out at any time with questions or if they need anything.
- Write it down. Document your calls and follow up with an email or shared document with the notes. For example, I have a weekly call with our Chief Horticulture Officer. I keep a One Note with a new page for each day we have a call. I use a table with a column where I list each item we discuss, a column with details about the item, and a column with Notes/Follow up actions and a check box. I check off the boxes as the items are taken care of. This is a shared book so the CHO can open and see where I am at on any item on the list.
- Seek first to understand, then to be understood. If I see something amiss, I will always ask the individual or the team what is going on, then discuss the appropriate way to operate. This gives me the chance to understand what was being attempted, and the level of comprehension held by the folks doing the task, as well as the opportunity to help them understand on a deeper level and move forward in a proper manner.
- Solution Based Thinking. I am a chemist, I deal in solutions. Basically, don’t dwell on the problems; rather, identify problems and bring solutions to light. That is, don’t just complain about how things are not working out, but make some suggestions on how things can improve or work better.
- Play to people’s unique skillsets and strengths. Encourage folks to contribute in ways that they can do successfully and help them grow and develop new skills and strengths. Figure out how to help someone thrive in their role, and then let them thrive.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I think it would be a 5-minute daily Qi Gong movement. The health benefits of Qi Gong are substantial, one of the most obvious being the relaxation and stress reduction that comes with this type of practice. Stress causes physical problems, as well as emotional problems. Reducing the planet’s collective stress level would help us all.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is my own: “Be proactive and believe in positive outcomes.”
It’s so important to believe in not only yourself and your ability to do something, but to believe in the work that you are doing. If you start out with the mindset that we can do this, I can see this vision coming to fruition — and you are proactive in trying to make the vision happen — you can accomplish so much. I truly believe that I am where I am today in part because I always believe things will work out for the best, and I always do what I need to to help things work out.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Stevie Nicks. I mean, breakfast with Stevie would be epic. She’s so elegant, so graceful.