#1: OGEN by Bloom Cultivation Thrives With 'Passionate' Workforce

Features - Cover Story

At OGEN by Bloom Cultivation in Calgary, Alberta, nurturing cannabis and employees goes hand in hand.

February 11, 2020

Darren Brisebois, president, OGEN By Bloom Cultivation
Photos by Cooper & O’Hara Photography

The people behind OGEN by Bloom Cultivation had a clear goal when they entered Canada’s legal market: They wanted to to become Canada’s premier connoisseur cultivator and consistently produce unique, small-batch, hand-trimmed flower at scale.

For company President Darren Brisebois, who came on board in 2017 as the company’s third employee, achieving exceptional goals requires an equally exceptional workplace culture. Topping the Cannabis Business Times 2020 list of “Best Cannabis Companies to Work For–Cultivation” is one more sign that the flower-focused company is on track.

In early 2020, OGEN, a name that was derived from “our generation,” will start moving plants into an expanded facility that’s doubling its workforce, quadrupling its canopy, and scaling the workplace culture that earns it CBT’s top spot.

OGEN President Darren Brisebois (center right) meets with the company’s quality assurance team, which includes Steph Prystae (left), Ed Bunce (center left) and Ben Milette.

Hiring for Shared Passions and Purpose

Brisebois describes OGEN’s company culture as hard-working, passionate and energetic. “We truly do demand the best of everything for ourselves,” he says. “It’s a fun place to work, and we work very hard.” Hiring people that complement the company ethos is essential to its collaborative, craft-cannabis mindset and the high degrees of responsibility and accountability that OGEN thrives on.

Brisebois looks for candidates with two important characteristics. “First, I’m looking for someone passionate about cannabis legalization,” he explains. His “legalization” qualifier transcends fervent interest in the product, though that doesn’t hurt. Instead, it may stem from connections to someone touched by the healing power of medical cannabis or personal enthusiasm for the economic opportunities this industry presents. “The second thing I look for is passion for working for a startup business where you can truly be involved in building something,” he says. “The real magic comes when the individual has both of those passions, which I’d say a good percentage of our employees do.”

OGEN builds that foundation of passion and purpose with an environment where all employees are essential team members, informed and inspired by the company’s goals. Monthly “town hall” meetings bring the entire company together for updates and opportunities to ask questions about company direction and results. Quarterly and annual goals are shared with all employees.

“We’re not only very open-door, but we’re ... communicating where we’re going,” Brisebois shares. “I truly believe that, mixed with the already existing interest in pushing legalization forward, that really creates a powerful movement within the business.”

Clockwise: Grower Leah Racher takes clones from the mother plants; OGEN’s trim team burps buds that are curing ; Evan Golanowski and Hannah Bird hand-trim Lemon Zkittle flowers.

Leveraging a Diverse Urban Community

OGEN’s urban Calgary location, just 15 minutes from downtown, is a key benefit for employees and the company. In contrast, many Canadian LPs have located their cultivation facilities in rural areas a one- or two-hour drive outside urban centers.

“We paid a lot more for our property, but what we paid in that we gained in access to outstanding people,” Brisebois explains. “Being right in the city is a huge benefit for us for attracting and retaining employees.” Alberta’s economic outlook has also expanded the pool of available talent—the oil-and-gas economy is several years into a recession.

Though OGEN doesn’t have formal diversity recruitment or hiring practices, Brisebois says it puts a high value on a diverse workforce, which he defines more broadly than simple demographics.

“When I talk about diversity, it’s more than different cultures and sexes,” he says. “Our employees have backgrounds from formal science degrees to the trades, construction, oil and gas, the pharmaceutical industry, not-for-profits, the food industry, consumer packaged goods, and we have [former] [illicit]-market growers as well.”

Brisebois credits the trickle down of three shared company values—quality, humility and community—with empowering the mix of people and the company’s workplace culture. “We have a very diverse group that’s open-minded and humble enough to share experiences to elevate for the greater good,” he says. “The diversity perspective is key. When you can humbly communicate effectively among each other, that really creates something magical.”

Photo provided by Ogen.

Sharing the Fruits of Success

In addition to cultivating cannabis sans the two-hour country commute, full-time OGEN employees enjoy numerous benefits after three months. Those include 11 paid statutory Canadian holidays, 15 paid vacation days and five paid sick days, which can be used to care for sick dependents. Based on independent reports he’s seen from human resource companies specializing in the Canadian cannabis industry, Brisebois believes OGEN offers above-average compensation across all positions. The majority of employees are salaried.

The company’s wide-ranging benefits package includes health, dental and vision care that complements and supplements Canada’s publicly funded health care system. Employees also qualify for year-end bonuses based on company performance.

To top off the package, OGEN offers a flexible health and wellness spending account, up to $1,500 annually that can be tailored to each employee’s lifestyle. The funds can pay expenses not fully covered by the standard health, dental and vision benefits, and they go toward expenses for fitness, massage, cosmetic procedures, CPR or first aid courses, personal trainers, self-defense courses, smoking cessation treatment, weight loss programs and more—including adult-use cannabis. “We believe cannabis is a preemptive wellness activity just like a massage or meditation would be,” Brisebois says.

(From left): Lead Grower Brandon Godfrey, President Darren Brisebois and Master Grower Daniel Saez inspect plants at OGEN’s cultivation facility.

Investing in Employee Advancement

OGEN’s commitment to promoting from within is integral to its culture. “We’re really passionate about hiring people in the company in entry-level positions and then having them move up within the company,” Brisebois says. All the company’s supervisory roles are currently filled by employees that followed that track. But the company’s dedication doesn’t stop at promotions.

“What a lot of those people have is [an] understanding of the business, and they also have that passion for the industry and what we’re doing here. But what a lot of them didn’t have was real management experience,” Brisebois explains.

To help rectify that, the company applied and was approved for an Alberta provincial government program designed to fight, through education, the effects of the province’s economic downturn. OGEN invests in high-performing employees with company-sponsored continued education programs at the University of Calgary. The government subsidizes part of the tuition, while OGEN picks up the balance.

Brisebois reports that five OGEN employees are now enrolled in a two-year management program at the university. “They’re all doing the program together, which is pretty special in itself,” he shares. “Our heads of our grow team, harvesting team, clipping team and processing team, as well as logistics and procurement, are all going through management training together. For a lot of them, they don’t have university degrees, so that is a huge opportunity for them as individuals.”

Danielle Grubisich, grower, tending to the plants.

Representing the Industry

Catered lunches, team achievement awards and quarterly team-building events, from bowling and mini golf to arcade outings, help build the sense of camaraderie and collaboration among OGEN employees. But the company reaches beyond employees to their families and the community at large.

Mother’s Day 2019 became “Bring Your Mom to Work Day.” Dads got their chance to come to work with their kids when Father’s Day rolled around. Brisebois explains the events gave parents an opportunity to see the professional environment at OGEN and appreciate how hard their children work. (A video on OGEN’s website that gave moms a chance to share their thoughts about having their kids work in cannabis is worth the watch.)

“Being part of something is special for a lot of people, but our group is a young group, and to have that level of accountability that a lot of us do at a relatively young age, it’s an opportunity to prove themselves,” Brisebois says. “I think they’ve done an outstanding job—everybody—doing that. There’s a lot of trust and respect that’s been built.”

Brisebois says many OGEN employees share a desire to educate others and represent the cannabis industry well. “For us being in Calgary, we’re quite a conservative province and city,” he explains. The industry’s high visibility makes it a frequent topic of conversation at family gatherings. “A lot of employees feel that responsibility because they’re really pushing the yardstick forward for the industry, and everybody’s talking about what they’re doing,” he says.

After an extensive pheno hunt for the best genetics, the cloning process begins.

Staying Focused on the Goals

OGEN is a private company, which gives the management team more flexibility to create a workplace culture that fosters growth, according to Brisebois.“ At the highest level, I think we have the ability to be the best place to work because we’re a private company,” he says. He believes this allows them to stay focused and not spread themselves too thin.

Being a private company also allows OGEN to empower employees with the ability to contribute in a meaningful way, Brisebois says. “For me personally, it’s been a dream to be able to start something from the ground up and to see it grow, and see employees grow in their roles and be promoted and take on responsibility,” he says. “To see somebody who was hired as a receptionist now going to university to get management training and leading a division—it’s pretty cool.”

Jolene Hansen is a freelance writer specializing in the cannabis and horticulture industries. Reach her at jolene@lovesgarden.com.