As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Melanie Davis.
Melanie Davis is a 25-year media veteran as past Publisher & CEO of Brilliant Media LLC. and has been a part of the cannabis legacy market since the early nineties. After serving as Director of Managed Services, she was promoted to COO of The People’s Ecosystem, an organization that focuses on providing cannabis education, services, and products while elevating resources and capital for minority canna-business owners. Melanie is most proud of authoring The People’s Pledge as she feels it embodies Co-Founders Christine De La Rosa (CEO) and Charleen Caabay (CIO) dreams, and their groundbreaking work, which has created space for women and BIPOC people to reclaim our ancestral medicine.
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”?
As Publisher & CEO of my company Brilliant Media LLC. I’ve spent the last 25 years inviting people to share their truth in newspapers and magazines. It has always been of utmost importance to own one’s narrative and speak their truth. As I’ve never really disclosed the integral role cannabis has played in my life, this is a great opportunity to do so.
I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in a cannabis-positive household when the War on Drugs had heavy impacts on not only my family but also many families across the nation. We were on the battleground. However, through my parents and other family members, I witnessed the medicinal powers of cannabis. I became an early adapter to cooking with THC/CBD and Hemp seeds to process my flower for tinctures, oils, butters, and balms. While living in Oregon, I had the opportunity to build my indoor cannabis grow. This allowed me to take a more intimate approach in understanding cannabis as I researched and experimented with cultivating cannabis using various mediums, including hydroponics.
Throughout my career in the media industry and experimenting in the legacy cannabis market, I became acquainted with Christine De La Rosa, Co-Founder, and CEO of The People’s Ecosystem, in 2012. We’ve partnered on several business ventures and forged a friendship that extends beyond our business relations. We’ve served as each other’s sounding board during the trials and tribulation of building our empires.
In 2021, when New Mexico passed a bill for adult cannabis use, Christine and I connected, and we discussed what the future could hold. She later reached out to offer me a position as Director of Managed Services. Within five months of this role, I expanded the company’s IP, assessed risks, developed monetization strategies for around 20 deals in our pipeline, and launched 52 product SKUs.This tenacious work led to Christine and her co-founder, Charleen Caabay, promoting me to Chief Operating Officer.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When I first started with The People’s Ecosystem, the Directors held weekly meetings with the C-Suite. During these meetings, we discussed many aspects of the organization, including the company vision, capital deployment into our holdings, partnerships and acquisitions, building out our THC/CBD brands, and the launch of delivery, distribution, manufacturing, dispensary, and cultivation. Not to mention we had to be hyper familiar with cannabis regulations across the national and international levels. This led me to ask the Directors if it would be beneficial to hold our own weekly meetings. We agreed that by doing so, we’d have a safe space to ask and offer help as well as share knowledge and department insight. These meetings led to collaborative efforts resulting in growth in our IP by tenfold and anchoring our company’s culture.
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?
One of my funniest learning curves was learning how to use the popular graphic design platform Canva. To streamline efforts with our Creative Initiatives Department, we began using Canva to present our strategies. Needless to say my presentations went from gradient to hyper colorful and animated. During our team meetings every Monday morning, the team was treated to a hysterical version of our latest strategy designed by yours truly.
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?
Firstly, my family has been a source of motivation and guidance. My great-grandmother instilled faith in me, my mother always provided unconditional love, my grandmother taught me business and political ethics, and my father shared his passion for mathematics and problem-solving. It is these contributions that I relied on the most when Christine and Charleen presented me with the opportunity to join The People’s Ecosystem. Both Christine and Charleen have helped me transition from the brutal media world and legacy cannabis market into the mind-bending regulated cannabis space. They recognized my experience and skillset and understood how I could leverage this in the cannabis industry.
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?
I’m an avid gamer and love to play in virtual reality (VR). It’s good for a mind and body release, flow alignment, and the most important aspect, it’s fun. I will often jump into my VR headset when contemplating difficult decisions, brainstorming ideas, or assessing risks and opportunities of valuations that come across my desk. As far as everything else, I focus on being 100% present.
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?
There is so much to unpack when it comes to diversity at executive levels in an organization. If you haven’t diversified your C-suite, you’re leaving or have already left innovation and money on the table for your competition to take. The U.S. minority markets have over $4 trillion in purchasing power and are an entry point into the global markets they represent. Diversity in organizations, especially in executive teams, are crucial for a business’s success.
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.
While working on some IP for The People’s Ecosystem and navigating through the process, I authored what we call The People’s Pledge, a road map to truly create an inclusive and equitable society. To reach this point in a company, nationally or even globally, we would need to start healing the harm that can’t be undone. This can be an overwhelming task due to the history of hundreds upon thousands of years of hurt and pain.
However, the good news is that with cannabis being regulated in more and more states, we have an immediate opportunity to evolve and accelerate true equality by course-correcting the harm The War on Drugs has caused. We invite you to say The People’s Pledge with us and embody its transformation in your daily output as it can be applied to all businesses and industries.
As business leaders, we must educate on our shared responsibility in sustainable, socially equitable, and inclusive business practices that directly affect and improve community environments of those most impacted by prohibition and the drug war era.
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 COO 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?
As the COO of The People’s Ecosystem, I have the unique opportunity to translate our company’s vision into our daily operations. I not only deliver our vision throughout the company, but I also embody them as an individual.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a COO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
Have you ever heard the quote “Gotta have a good golf game”? When it comes to being a COO or executive, this is thankfully not the case. In operations, you work hard, and then you work even harder. You are the first one there and the last one to leave — end of story.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Overall, women executives have to be exceptional in so many aspects. Women have to attain a superior knowledge base and take the initiative at any given chance they receive. Compared to their patriarchal counterparts, women have to work harder out of the gate. When women don’t have as much knowledge or don’t take the lead when the opportunity arises, they are often overlooked, ignored, and not taken seriously. This hinders future opportunities when trying to be assertive because they are then viewed as attitudinal and emotional. This happens more so with women of color, and because there are so few of us, it can be isolating.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I couldn’t have imagined how everchanging the world of cannabis is. This is mostly due to cannabis being federally classified as a schedule 1 drug, meaning the state determines the rules and regulations. With each state having different laws in place, it can be challenging to standardize SOP’s, as even packaging rules are different.
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?
I think some people are natural-born leaders and others aspire to be great leaders. However, what makes someone a great leader is their ability to take responsibility for themselves and those who report to them as well as recognize failure as growth opportunities. Lastly, a good leader has to be willing to understand that these expectations and processes will be continuous in that role.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
One piece of key advice to other women leaders is to be consistent. Finding and keeping consistency will help establish clear expectations on your team and set up their performance to thrive.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Being in both the media and cannabis industries, I have been exposed to a plethora of topics and subject matters. One thing that I have appreciated throughout it all is the voice of underprivileged and minority parties. My contribution in making the world a better place is investing in and supporting Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), women, and LGBTQA+ led businesses and causes.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Slow down: The importance of savoring life’s moments and genuinely being present is undervalued in our society of screens. I’d give anything to have a fresh bowl of beans and a warm homemade tortilla with my great grandmother. Those moments and the look in her eyes were the most comforting.
- Breathe: Take in every breath to its fullest potential because it’s yours.
- The death of the ego is beautiful.
- Allow things to flow.
- Over the years, I learned that most things start to happen when you open yourself to healing and stand in your own truth. In my younger years in both my personal and professional life, I danced with my ego and lost myself along the way. Often, as queer women of color, we don’t get a chance to ever have or be in a space where we can be our whole self, which is unfortunate.
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.
If I could inspire a movement, it would be to end poverty and homelessness. This issue has plagued the world for centuries, and I would like to bring equity to resources for underserved parties. I’d also like to make WiFi accessibility a free resource for everyone.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One time I was challenged to write a 6-word novel. Laughingly, I penned out: “Fear, fuck fear. Live and Love!.” To my surprise, there it was, the sum of my life and all of its lessons.
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.
That’s a great question. Probably, Mark Zukerberg, heck, and add Bezos, Cook, Gates, and Pichai to the list. I believe by choosing these individuals in the technology space, we could begin to globally course correct and activate The People’s Pledge as it relates to their industry. We are at the point in capitalism that we must recognize the needs of our economies and scale their future to ensure success.