Women to Watch: Jess Cooksey
Jess Cooksey is a creative person with a background in freelance graphic design and marketing. She loves to tap into her creative side and wishes everyone could see the colorful world she brings to St. Louis.
“I have lived in St. Louis most of my life, but in the last year decided to move to the country. My partner and I decided to purchase land and a cute house away from the city and live on our own little slice of nature. It didn’t take me long to get my official country uniform of overalls and a John Deere,” she said.
Cooksey serves as Vice President of Sales and Marketing for GCA Labs, a licensed cannabis testing facility in Missouri, and the first ISO 17025-certified cannabis testing lab in the state.
“We have a strong ethical stance on patient safety above all else. The lab side of the industry gets a lot of bad publicity for inflating data or changing results… and I think we set ourselves apart from that way of doing business. When I see a product tested by us, I know that it’s safe, went through all the proper quality control, and I can know that it was tested accurately.
I feel that our company is really like a family and I know people say that a lot, but I really feel it here. I feel like ownership really cares about the people working for them. I love the atmosphere the company creates. I really like that we’re a very diverse group of people.”
How has your business changed after the legalization of marijuana in Missouri?
After rec passed, business got a little crazy. Operators started increasing production and so testing started to see a higher volume as well. We’re expanding the Lab, building a bigger office, adding equipment and staff. It will be a couple month process getting everything up, but we are going to be faster and more streamlined than ever before.
How did you get into cannabis?
I have never felt a stronger calling for something in my life. I came into this industry with ambition and ideas. It was a rough beginning because finding a position in early 2021 was difficult. Especially corporate Marketing. At first, I don’t think a lot of cannabis companies took me seriously. I wanted my foot in the door so badly that I ended up taking a job as a budtender. Huge pay cut, not the hours I was used to…and felt I had to work even harder to get where I wanted. I knew that If given the opportunity, that I would prove myself. My ideas paid off because within 4 weeks of being a budtender I caught the eyes of corporate. I remember that phone call like its burnt into my brain. I was working the front desk at the dispensary and received a phone call from the CEO who was out in Colorado. He said, “Jess, I’m flying out to St. Louis tomorrow and I want you to meet me for lunch”. At lunch, he asked my opinions on several Branding issues they were struggling with. He then offered me the position of Director of Branding. He wanted me to rebrand the company and develop other, new brands for them that they wanted to release. After several months, I think I reached the best honor that I could in the company when I was named Chief Marketing Officer. I still felt like my journey wasn’t complete though and it wasn’t. I was approached by a recruiter in cannabis and was asked to hear them out. I’m glad I did because it pivoted me into where I am today. Listening to the ethical stance that GCA’s CEO has and his philosophy on business… It was not a hard decision for me. On the lab side of this industry, I felt I could really make a difference for consumers and patients. I accepted a Vice President role in the corporation and absolutely love what I do.
I feel passionate about cannabis and the healing ability that has helped so many others. I have to be honest though, If I would have told myself back in the ’90s (yes I’m old) that I would be making a career from cannabis, I would have laughed at myself and thought it was a lie. This plant can do so much for people that have previously relied on pills to cure things, and I love seeing people get the help they need from cannabis.
What is it like being a woman in your field?
I feel everyone’s experience is different. I’m transgender and do not conform to gender norms in society. I feel a lot of times people don’t know where to place me in their categorical way of thinking. I feel after people get to know me, they open up a little bit. I’m sure some of my clients will probably read this article and scratch their head because they never knew this about me. It’s awkward on the phone sometimes with a legal name Jessica and a deep voice.
What if any challenges have you faced that you feel men in the industry don’t generally deal with?
Me, personally, is being seen for who I am. I don’t really fit into anyone’s box and sometimes that is really challenging. I feel a lot of times women need to work harder to be heard and seen. It’s not always that way, but I know so many talented women in this field that don’t get enough credit or the promotion they deserve for their hard work.
What are you passionate about?
I’m passionate about creating and designing. Branding and Marketing have always stood out to me and is so fun. I could spend all day in a big store walking around and looking at all the creative branding on products. My wife is in corporate Marketing as well and she thinks I have a weird obsession with well marketed products. It usually adds up significantly on our shopping bill.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find a lot of inspiration out at my property. It’s a creativity-friendly environment. It’s very peaceful to be surrounded by forest, trails, and creeks. A lot of my branding creative work was done on walks through our woods, or meditating on our large rock formations in the back of the property.
What motivates you?
Life motivates me. There are so many adventures out there and I would like to experience it all
someday. My daughter and my wife are a big motivator in my life as well. I want to give my daughter all the things I could never have growing up. The cannabis industry has been a big opportunity for me.
What advice or encouragement would you give to other women in the cannabis industry?
There are so many powerful women leaders in cannabis. They are so supportive and encouraging. I would say to go out there, meet other women in cannabis and let your personality shine. I would also say believe in yourself and manifest what you want. That last part sounds corny, but I promise you it works.
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
Professionally, I would say working my way from an entry-level position up to a CMO and Vice President role in a corporation. It’s been a journey and feel really proud of what I have accomplished in such a short time.
Personally, what I’m most proud of accomplishing in this industry, is creating a brand from just a couple of words and seeing the project all the way to retail shelves. There is no better feeling for a Brander than to see a consumer purchase and enjoy something you put so much heart and energy into.