Brooke Gehring: The Path to Pot

brooke1Like the Gold Rush that drew people California in the 1800s, there are indeed many people in a rush to capitalize on the biggest and most burgeoning business in our country since the birth of the Internet – legal marijuana. But for Brooke Gehring, it wasn’t so much a rush to make a profit, as it was being in the right place at the right time and being ready to apply her hard-earned skills in an industry she cared about passionately.

At only 34 years old, Brooke has a full and successful career in commercial banking behind her and is now one of the preeminent pot entrepreneurs in the state of Colorado. But her journey began in the conservative Midwest, growing up in Columbus, Ohio. Although she became “socially familiar” with marijuana around the age of 15, she never imagined she’d turn it into a career. Initially her sights were set on law. And after graduating from Miami University of Ohio, she moved out to Boulder, Colorado, hoping for some good skiing to fill her free time while she put away some money for law school working for a national mortgage brokerage firm.

The brokerage firm was run by a man who was in the middle of his third divorce, so – for Brooke – that meant carrying a lot of the day-to-day responsibility. By the time she was 25, she was director of compliance and auditing accounts across multiple states. “Some people are blessed with mentors, but not me. I was blessed with always having jobs that were bigger shoes to fill than what my existing skill set offered.”

In 2007 when the real estate market started to crash, Brooke moved over to the firm’s commercial banking section where she was needed to help manage the many “bank-owned assets” that were coming back onto the books. Translation? Brooke was partially responsible for liquidating people’s assets – people that could no longer afford their mortgages or people to whom the bank could no longer lend.

“We were taking away people’s family businesses, like four generations of families, to protect the bank. I didn’t like it. Morally, it didn’t feel right.”

While the work was certainly not rewarding personally, professionally, Gehring was building up a nice set of skills with an expertise in financial regulations, compliance and managing lines of credit and payments for high-dollar amounts. It was a skillset that was easily transferable. So in the summer of 2009, when people started calling her to ask about available retail and commercial locations for their marijuana industries, a bell went off.

“That was the first time I really had my eyes opened that marijuana was an industry and an option for a job in Colorado, and I knew with my regulatory and retail experience I had something to offer.”

Brooke started doing her homework. “Every time there was a city council meeting, or a grassroots community meeting, I went. I just tried to gather as much information as possible about it.”

The Colorado House legislature was also beginning to talk about how to implement the medical licensing of marijuana. So, with all the forward EDJ_2707.NEFprogress on the marijuana front, and the market crash on the other side, Brooke decided to turn her interest into her career. “I looked at my professional skill set and I just thought about how I could apply it to this new market.”

Her family, back in Ohio still, was not as keen on her switch.  “They were concerned with how I was going to make a living, and it was a bit crazy – I left a salaried, stable job with benefits in corporate America to open my own consulting business without any clients.”

But she needn’t worry long. Gehring set up LiveGreen Consulting advertised as the place to get pointed in the right direction for would-be marijuana businesses interested in learning more about compliance, licensing, and professional resource development.

“I just started studying everything I could get my hands on. I already had banking and compliance experience, so I knew the programs and rules and licensing authorities, and I kind of understood the structure on the government side, too, so it was really just staying on top of what new regulations were being issued.”

It took off — so much so that even her family who was very hesitant at first, became more understanding.  About a year later, when the federal government issued the Ogden Memo stating that they wouldn’t interfere with legal marijuana entities, the potential for the industry skyrocketed. “That’s when lots of people started moving here – developers, real estate investors, and growers. But it’s also when the Colorado legislature said you had to be a Colorado resident to own a business.”

So after consulting for nearly a year, Gehring was presented with an opportunity to purchase one of her out-of-state consulting client’s businesses.

Having worked in the industry for nearly a year at that point, Gehring’s point of view on the matter was firm. “I believe it’s a choice and it’s better to have safe access to it. Also, I’m fascinated by the medical benefits and the research on how it really is helping specific ailments.”

Together, with two partners, Gehring purchased the business through a combination of personal savings and family loans totaling almost $1 million in an initial investment.

EDJ_5639.NEFJust four years later, they run Patients Choice of Colorado and Live Green Cannabis, with Gehring as the CEO. They have 80 employees across four retail locations in three cities and two cultivation facilities where they produce 100% of the marijuana that they sell.

“I took a fast track. I would have never thought, ‘Oh I want to be in marijuana when I grow up’, but it was timing and luck and hard work. We were very set up in medical and then when recreational took off a year and a half later we were ready to get involved.”

Her businesses have been “in the black since 2012” and they continue to reinvest in the business to grow. While the business is profitable, there is significant capital outlay as well for testing and labeling and compliance.

“When I told my family “I’m going to grow and sell marijuana” I think they were a bit freaked, but now my cousin moved here to get involved and even my aunt who loves to bake will talk to me about the ancillary food businesses.”

With marijuana expected to grow from a $2 billion business now to a $100 billion dollar industry, indeed her family should be pleased she’s in such a high growth sector. And when that growth is coming from taking an industry from an illegal to a legal market, well, really how could they complain?

Here’s to a happy family Thanksgiving dinner for the Gehrings as they trade brownie recipes.

Tips from Brooke on starting your own business: 
  • Know your strengths. Your skills will strengthen over time and will complement others’ skills that might not be your strong points.
  • Build a team that you can trust and count on…make sure they are likeminded.
  • Be patient with yourself because this is a start up and you cannot go into it thinking that you will make a million dollars overnight. Allow yourself at least 2-3 years to establish your business in this brand new industry.

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