From cushy corporate job to cannabis entrepreneur

Marianne Brown left a successful career in corporate agri to launch a start-up in the nascent but exciting cannabis industry. Meet the CEO and co-founder of CanAgri Global

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“My proudest and most frightening moment was resigning from a great corporate role to be an entrepreneur with a start-up business,” says Marianne Brown, the CEO and co-founder of CanAgri Global, a leading role-player in the local and international cannabis supply chain.

Her career in agriculture, however, originally started at a seed brand, Pannar Seed. She says she studied continuously to first become a lab manager, and later production manager and quality manager for Africa.

Marianne Brown, the CEO and co-founder of CanAgri Global, a leading role-player in the local and international cannabis supply chain. Photo: Supplied
Marianne Brown, the CEO and co-founder of CanAgri Global, a leading role-player in the local and international cannabis supply chain. Photo: Supplied

In March 2019 she walked out of the corporate world and ventured into entrepreneurship.

“I am now completely immersed in the cannabis industry on a global level,” she says, acknowledging that she could never imagine one day working in the cannabis industry.

Every day, Brown meets with clients, whether in person or online, after which she engages regulators and industry players.

Food For Mzansi recently checked in with Brown as part of our Virtual Agri Career Fair resource highlighting exciting career opportunities in agriculture. She advises people considering a similar career path to build on their business management skills.

Could you sum up your job for us?

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That’s a bit difficult… We have touch points through the value chain… (It’s) something one can achieve in an emerging industry. We consult to clients wanting to enter the cannabis industry in Africa; and navigate through regulation and licensing from cannabis seed to sale. We also manage cannabis supply agreements to international markets, imports and exports.

So, what does your day-to-day entail?

Clients come first, so interaction with clients (is high on the priority list). We do face-to-face site visits and/or Zoom meetings, our new best friend. We then touch base with our regulators and have engagement with industry players.

I also have around two hours on emails. An hour or two on product development. An hour or two following up on client leads.

What qualification do you need for this career?

Ideally have some agronomic background, understanding of regulatory compliance and business management. BCom, BSc or BTech degrees are recommended.

What are the character traits needed for your job?

I need to be patient, pragmatic, a self-starter, customer-orientated and have an eye for detail. Good communication skills are important. Be agile – you must be able to manage change.

What subjects do I need to become a CEO?

(There’s) no real defined subjects, but I think a grounding in business management would be a good start.

What do you love about agriculture?

Agriculture is necessary to produce food and medicine to sustain human and animal life. Being part of that value chain gives an enormous sense of value add. “Making the world a better place” indeed does exist.

With hemp now almost commercialised as an industrial crop and cannabis for medicinal purposes legalised, we have the ability to create many jobs in many industries and sectors, from fibre production for industrial purposes, clothing, housing; and then on the other side affordable medicine. We really are in a wonderful place to boost the African economy and industry for local and export.

Don’t be modest, tell us about your proudest career moments.

Honestly, over and above the awards won and work promotions, my proudest and most frightening moment was resigning from a great corporate role to be an entrepreneur with a start-up business.

What do you do when you’re not at work?

I love my gorgeous family and try and spend as much time as possible with them. All of us golf. I enjoy walking the dogs on the farm, meditation and sipping on a glass of South African Pinotage.

Any advice for young people inspired by your story?

Be brave. If you have a passion, follow your passion and don’t give up, especially when things get tough. Put your hand up to new challenges. Don’t expect to be rewarded before you have proven yourself. Work Hard. Work Smart. Surround yourself with like-minded, passionate individuals and be a team player.

Where can I study to become a CEO?

The university of life! But seriously, you can start where you fit best – whether HR, business, science, agriculture – but to lead, you must never stop learning, studying and growing.

  • Are you in need of some career inspiration? Do you have a high-school student in your life who is facing tough decisions on subject choices and a future career to pursue? Check out the Food For Mzansi Virtual Agri Career Fair for lots of informative and inspiring stories from real people in exciting careers in agriculture.
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