Jennifer Ellis Staffs Cronos Group at the Speed of Green

HR pro Jennifer Ellis draws on her many years of experience to scale the start-up into an industry leader

The quiet city of Stayner, Ontario, a community of 15,000, is not one’s first guess for one of the fastest-moving companies in one of the most quickly emerging marketplaces in the world. The city, better known for the severity of its winter weather, is home base to one of most prominent companies in the developing cannabis industry: Cronos Group.

Cronos Group has grown by leaps and bounds, and HR Director Jennifer Ellis has been with the company since it had only forty employees. Now over five hundred strong, Ellis is tasked with helping Cronos Group to continue to build out a staff that doesn’t need any additional lighting to fuel its growth.

Jennifer Ellis The Cronos Group
Jennifer Ellis, The Cronos GroupPhoto: Courtesy of The Cronos Group

Ellis’s own growth should be noted. The HR professional says that while she’s worked for both an established pharmaceutical company and an outdoor consumer goods company, a piece of advice she received early on stuck with her during this past decade of her career. “A VP I reported to at the start of my career, a strong woman who was great to work for, always said that one of the most important experiences an HR professional can have is working for a start-up,” Ellis says. “When I received the offer from Cronos Group, I remembered that advice.”

That’s not to say Ellis was wholly without the experience of building something from scratch. As an HR manager at her previous company, she was tasked with hiring 250 associates for a new store and rolling out programs and policies for all new hires. “It wasn’t a start-up, but it was a similar environment and similar demands,” Ellis says.

Since coming to Cronos Group in February 2017, Ellis says change is constant as the company continues to grow and evolve its business both domestically and globally.

Ellis says the results of the HR team’s handiwork are on full display in the company lunchroom where Cronos staff assembles for company-wide meetings. “I think about the town hall meetings we have now compared to the all staff meetings we had in the past two years. Now we can barely fit everyone in our lunchroom.” Ellis and the team are responsible for almost everybody in the room, and the HR director says it’s hard not to feel pride in these accomplishments.

Despite the influx of hiring, Ellis says finding the right talent still takes time and thoughtfulness. “We’re in a relatively remote location, and we’ve been growing at a rapid pace,” Ellis explains. “We look for people that really have agility and passion for what they do and are going to feel successful in a company that’s growing, fast-moving, and has a great energy to it.”

The HR director understands what she perceives as healthy skepticism toward the burgeoning cannabis market. “With this emerging industry, you have people who are very eager to join a new industry, but you also have those that aren’t quite as sure,” Ellis says. Since the adult-use cannabis market was legalized at the federal level in Canada in October 2018, Ellis finds the hesitation has significantly diminished amongst prospective new hires.

Medical cannabis was legalized in 2001, and in 2018 Canada became the second country in the world to formally legalize the possession, acquisition, cultivation, and consumption of cannabis and its by-products. The ensuing “green rush” left few as poised as Cronos Group to capitalize on the emerging cannabis market.

As Cronos Group continues its expansion domestically and globally, Ellis says she’s tasked with the tough job of helping establish and maintain the company’s culture at a time of growth. It’s a tall order, but Ellis and her team are up to the job.

“I’ve always been motivated by a challenge. Not the title. Not the financial incentive. The challenge,” Ellis says. “Every year I’ve been with the company I’ve been blown away by the pace of growth, development and evolution and we are nowhere near slowing down. I’m proud to be in a position where I can positively impact so many employees.”

Making Cronos a Welcoming Employer for Everyone

Jennifer Ellis says that when it comes to diversity, the department has full board support. D&I initiatives include:

  • Tailor-made development plans for women in the organization
  • Reviewing processes to combat unconscious bias

“We want to offer employees an experience and career opportunities that are unmatched anywhere else,” Ellis says. “We are looking at all of these components; diversity, women in leadership, retention initiatives, professional development of our people, so we can look back and say, ‘we’re there—we’re that employer.”