Corey Barnette knows how to make things happen. A graduate of Duke University’s highly esteemed Fuqua School of Business, where he earned an MBA, Barnette has made a name for himself as a turnaround artist — bringing order out of chaos.
Before entering the cannabis industry, Barnette worked in investment banking and venture funds. “I was buying and selling small businesses, first in D.C. and then across the country,” Barnette says.
In 2008, he received a call from a friend he had known since graduate school. “My friend and his wife had started the San Diego Medical Collective, and they asked me to sit on the board,” he says. Eventually, Barnette ran the collective and opened up a second dispensary, the Chi Holistic Collective.
Building on that experience, Barnette moved back to Washington, D.C., and founded District Growers when the nation’s capital instituted a regulated medical cannabis program. He later acquired Metropolitan Wellness Center in D.C. as well.
Barnette says that the experience he acquired in his early business ventures, especially in strategy and change management, serves him well in the burgeoning cannabis industry that he now calls home.
“You learn how to be very responsive, very flexible,” Barnette says of his experience buying and selling businesses, some of which were in serious trouble when he acquired them. “You develop a strong stomach for change,” he laughs, “and you develop a comfort level with moving quickly.
“The trick is in making the right decisions with what is often not a lot of time. That comes with experience.”
One of the things that Barnette says he finds attractive about the cannabis industry is the powerful combination of entrepreneurial spirit and personal commitment. “I love the energy in this industry,” he says. “We have a lot of people who are engaged on both an intellectual and emotional level.
“In a lot of industries–and very successful industries at that–one often sees entrepreneurs who are motivated by pure entrepreneurship,” Barnette continues. “But in the cannabis industry, we see a lot of people who are just as engaged and motivated by the actual product they’re selling.”
Barnette, like many who are successful, understands that the emotional connection that many in the cannabis industry feel to cannabis can be a double-edged sword; therefore, he emphasizes “balance, balance, balance. Balance is critical, and helping to achieve the kind of equilibrium that creates success is something I feel I bring to the industry.”
“To continue to grow, to really reach our potential as an industry and as an economic force, we need acumen as well as passion. We have plenty of passion, and we’re catching up on acumen,” he adds, also noting the importance of mentorship and creating a sense of business ownership among all employees.
“One of the best things we can do to ensure our continued success is to make sure that every employee knows what the goals of the enterprise are and how their work contributes to seeing those goals achieved.”
The cannabis industry is growing exponentially and is positioned to grow even faster, Barnette notes. “What I and others like me can bring to the industry is tested, sound business strategies,” he says.
“Innovation has to be managed; it doesn’t happen by accident, or it rarely happens by accident. I apply the same experience that made me a successful entrepreneur in other arenas to the cannabis industry.”