Harvinder Johal of Vantage Hemp Co On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective CRO

Harvinder Johal of Vantage Hemp Co On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective CRO

Originally posted on Authority Magazine.

A CRO’s role is essential for a company’s growth, taking on the responsibility for all aspects of driving revenue to the company. What makes someone an effective CRO? For someone considering a role as a CRO, what does it take to create a highly successful career in this position? To address these questions, we had the pleasure of interviewing Harvinder Johal.

With over 20 years of experience in the healthcare and technology sectors, Harvinder Johal has extensive experience in start-ups and leveraging technology for scaling and monetizing opportunities, which have been part and parcel to his success. He is an entrepreneur, an active investor in the cannabis sector, and Chief Revenue Officer for Vantage Hemp Co., an industry leader in the production and manufacturing of plant-based products. Harvinder is an advisor to companies that thrive on creating value through culture and innovation.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Myeducational background is actually in Biology and Environmental Science, but I ended up in Sales & Marketing in the pharmaceutical industry. When I left the industry in 2005, I started my journey into entrepreneurship and over this time, I have been involved in healthcare, technology, and cannabis start-ups.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about your funniest mistake when you first started? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Not sure if it was funny at the time, but I had never signed a lease prior to 2005. In August of 2005, we started a pharmacy focused on long-term care patients. I signed the lease and did not think to ask whether the warehouse had AC and after signing and moving in, I realized my mistake! To add AC into a 5,000 sq. ft. space would have been $150,000 and as a start-up, we had no ability to take on this expense. So, we had to spend a weekend cleaning out one of the offices and putting in shelves to store the drugs to be compliant with pharmacy codes. We had to open the doors at the back and install fans to simply keep the air flowing. The lesson learned is that you always read the fine print!

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I am struggling to pick one person as there have been so many people along the way that provided valuable insight and support. I recall one fellow who was a vendor I worked with early in my marketing role in the pharmaceutical industry. In one of the first meetings, I remember him stating that in this industry and in life, your network is your net worth. I now see how valuable that statement was at the time. I am leveraging many of my past contacts in the healthcare space to drive opportunities at Vantage Hemp.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

This is always an interesting question as people want simplicity, but business is never simple. In my experience, you require different traits at different times in your career as you evolve into leadership. A few that stick out are always be open to other people’s perspectives. I have worked in ‘yes’ cultures and it never leads to good outcomes. Also, I think it is important to ‘do what you say you will do’ to respect those whom you interact with on a day-to-day basis. In any leadership role, if you don’t execute what you state, then you lose credibility which will develop into resentment within the company culture. Lastly, it is important to allow for transparency. People want to be told the truth if it is good or bad. Many people within Vantage Hemp are likely sick of my saying, “I am happy to be wrong!’ I take this wholeheartedly as a business philosophy as I don’t like to make mistakes and if someone has the insight to stop me from making a mistake, I am all ears!

Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about creating a successful career as a CRO. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly a CRO does? How is a CRO different than a CMO or a CFO?

CRO is a more recent title, and it is more than just sales. It is about looking at a way to expand revenue opportunities. Sales is more rote, meaning input equals output, and it can be more measurable. In the CRO role, it is more of a strategic function where you must look at what is around the corner and prepare your organization for opportunities that may not exist today but will in the future.

A CMO is a marketing role and obviously, this is about ensuring that the customer segments you are going after, know what you do and what you stand for as a company. CFOs are focused on ensuring that you meet your financial goals and run a business that is compliant, providing the oversight to maximize ROI.

Can you tell us about a project, person, or team you led where you successfully made a big impact? What secrets can you share with us?

Vantage Hemp since its inception was set up to pursue international markets and this requires considerably more effort than just meeting US compliance standards. As the industry is still in its infancy, it will take time for standards to be sector-wide.

So, for the company, we needed to show that we meet and surpass the standards required to ship products to international clients. To gain clients’ trust, it was important to have a third-party audit all of our processes and ensure that this provided clients confidence in our ability to deliver.

The company hired SGS which is one of the largest auditing firms in the world, based in Switzerland. It was a very exhaustive process, but we were able to achieve the certifications that are accepted globally, and this has had a major impact on our ability to engage with clients internationally.

In a typical organization, we could have told everyone involved to simply ‘do it’, but the importance had to be considered. Through interdisciplinary effort and ensuring everyone knew why this was critical to the business, it resulted in a collaboration across departments that ensured everyone put their best foot forward. With everyone knowing the importance it allowed for a much smoother process to reach our certification goals.

Have you ever been presented with a difficult situation that required creative problem-solving? Can you please share the story with us?

In any start-up and especially in a new sector like hemp, it is almost a weekly challenge to be creative because you are literally driving the road as you pave it!

A recent exercise in creativity was to support a client who is securing raw materials/biomass from different geographical locations. Offsite storage can be expensive and also logistically challenging as you don’t often have 24/7 access. So, our internal team working together with the client came up with a way to manage this more efficiently. A 40 ft. refrigerated shipping container is now onsite to house this material and ensure it is in a dry and temperature-controlled environment. We could have simply said it’s not our problem, but by working with the client we came up with a midterm solution that allows the time to figure out a long-term solution if we ever need it!

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are your “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective CRO?”

  1. Awareness of trends, not just socially, but especially related to your sector.
  2. Ability to shift gears when needed. You won’t see new opportunities if you get in a rut.
  3. Be very involved with your marketing and finance departments.
  4. Collaboration leads to ensuring the best ROI based on sound decisions across multiple departments.
  5. Read at least an hour a day and have multiple sources of information. All it takes is reading one article or learning about another company’s success that can provide the aha moment.
  6. Never stop learning. You constantly have to be able to understand new technologies and new ways to conduct business. A recent example is ChatGPT which will be transformational for many businesses and if you don’t know what you don’t know, then you will be left behind.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would love to see the “happy to be wrong” movement take off. If business leaders can create an environment that allows people to speak openly and allow for collaboration, I believe that will lead to more creativity in finding solutions. I have worked in too many ‘yes’ cultures as well as environments that don’t allow for individuals to speak freely, and it just results in more turnover and a lack of collaboration.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!

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