One of a Kind: Julie Chamberlain

What makes her great: Open to new ideas and focused on consumers, Chamberlain, VP of Marketing at Organigram, represents a new way of cannabis producers to think of their audience: by valuing their thoughts and preferences.
What she represents: Headlining a staff that’s 85% female, Chamberlain, a year into her job, is on a personal mission to see the cannabis legalization experiment to succeed.
Her words of wisdom: “I want to ensure that cannabis never becomes a commodity.”
Ben Kaplan caught up with Chamberlain from her home in Moncton, New Brunswick.
  • BK: As a woman in cannabis, have things moved forward since we began the legalization march? What has been done and what would you still like to see?

    JC: Before I joined Organigram, people predicted I wouldn’t like the cannabis industry and would struggle in a stereotypically male-dominated, “cowboy” environment.

  • BK: Yikes! Not exactly glowing reviews.

    JC: My experience, however, has been quite different. I’m thriving! I’m proud to work with a team of men and women who share a commitment to building a sustainable business and who value diverse experiences and points of view. My team is 85% women.

  • BK: That’s awesome. And what does that add to Organigram’s culture?

    JC: In addition to their experience and expertise, women add a great deal to any start-up environment, particularly now, when it’s more important than ever to lean into, display, and hold space for vulnerability. There’s no roadmap. And even if there was, why would we follow it when we have the opportunity to do better?

  • BK: Do you see the cannabis industry as still pioneering every day?

    JC: We’re creating this whole new industry and enterprise as we go and I think the value of women in leadership positions—across the board—helps to manage the tension of the paradoxes inherent in building and scaling, and creating a culture of trust and failing forward. That’s why I enjoy being part of a Senior Leadership Team of 45% women.

  • BK: What, specifically, is it that you do?

    JC: I get to get up every day and think about and find ways to improve the experience of cannabis consumers and patients across the country. I’m Vice President of Marketing for Organigram. My role provides amazing opportunities, but none more so than leading some of the best talents—period. My most exciting, difficult and important challenge is to attract, inspire, develop and retain the team I have the honour to lead.

  • BK: Tell me about what you like most and least about the work.

    JC: I love the opportunity to create. I’m a creator and I love imagining and then manifesting with my team something valuable, whether it’s a strategy, brand, product, team or culture. I get to experience the adrenaline of the creative process every day, in innumerable and even surprising ways. I particularly love creating with the consumer at the core. We are a very consumer-centric team and have done more research in my year at Organigram than I did at some of the best CPG companies in the world.

  • BK: What challenges does that present?

    JC: The shadow side of the breadth of opportunity—and demand—for creation in the cannabis industry, is that sometimes the pace is challenging. The mantra on my team is “Direction not Perfection”! I’m grateful that the cannabis community mostly recognizes that the industry is moving at a breakneck pace and appreciates that while every decision might not be perfect, we are always committed to improving and growing.

  • BK: What do people get wrong about working in weed?

    JC: The cannabis community tends to be hard on itself and I’d like to see more regular celebration of what’s been accomplished and the progress we’ve achieved... “Direction not Perfection!”

  • BK: Can you describe the Organigram workplace culture?

    JC: One team, one goal. One of the best parts of Organigram is that despite the fact that we have a large portfolio of both recreational and medical cannabis brands, we operate with a deep sense of team. We share a unified culture both created and supported by an overarching organizational strategy.

  • BK: Does that have anything to do with your Atlantic Canada roots?

    JC: Probably. We are hungry but humble, and deeply focused on and committed to building a sustainable and thriving organization. We care deeply about our employees, teams and communities and take our relationships and commitments to our stakeholders very seriously.

  • BK: Cannabis was very much an industry with expos and conferences. What do we miss in the time of COVID-19? That said, what do we gain?

    JC: I’ll be honest, I haven’t missed them very much.

  • BK: That’s interesting. I thought you people traveled every weekend.

    JC: Not even close. I have three young children and am pretty firm on boundaries, which includes a family focus on the weekends. There have been some great initiatives in the industry to continue to offer creative and productive online learning and networking opportunities, so I feel fulfilled there, and as a marketer, my preference is interaction with consumers, which I miss deeply.

  • BK: So what do you miss in the Age of COVID?

    JC: The opportunity to engage with consumers in ways that matter to them and our communities. When we’re present in local (age-gated) festivals and events, for instance, or even in a retail environment, we have an opportunity to share common passion points and that’s always exciting.

  • BK: And what have you gained?

    JC: The opportunity to accelerate and improve the digital customer experience. Services like click and collect and online order menus are examples of ways the industry has prioritized convenience. I hope this is allowed to continue because while price traditionally has been the focus of how we penetrate the legacy cannabis market, convenience is a significant barrier that we need to collectively address. I have deep admiration for how our retail partners have nimbly, resiliently, developed convenient solutions and, as a result, reduced barriers to accessing legal cannabis products across the country.

  • BK: Can you give me a sense, for you personally, what you'd like your impact to be on legalization?

    JC: I would like to be part of ensuring that cannabis never becomes a commodity. I am on a mission to contribute to this through developing the most authentic, trusted, purpose-driven brands in the world. The most diverse and powerful generation in Canadian history—a country leading legalization globally—deserves nothing less.

  • BK: Do you have any industry mentors? Have you been a mentor to anyone?

    JC: I’m just shy of one year in the cannabis industry and it’s been a whirlwind. My first priority has been supporting my new and growing team. I have been lucky enough to have had amazing mentors in the past and have benefited tremendously from mentor/mentee relationships throughout my career. I look forward to continuing to find those kinds of positive, supportive, mentoring connections as I evolve in this new role.