How Diane Scott made a late-career pivot to focus on giving back.

Diane Scott

By Hailey Eisen 

Diane Scott couldn’t have planned a career as dynamic as the one she has. Five years ago, it didn’t exist.

As Chair and CEO of JMCC Group, Diane sits at the helm of Canada’s only woman-led international medical cannabis company. She built the business from the ground up and today operates on four continents and the Caribbean.  

JMCC, which stands for Jamaican Medical Cannabis Company, was founded in 2016. After more than a decade working in New York and London in the global financial services and technology industries — including work in the financial services practice of presidential candidate Ross Perot Sr — Diane felt burnt out and in need of a restart. “After all those years I wasn’t loving what I was doing anymore, and I didn’t like the person I had to be to do it,” Diane recalls. 

Taking a career pause gave her the opportunity to return home to Toronto after 17 years. “I sold my apartment in New York and came home to the town I was raised in to reflect. Suddenly I had five acres to look after, and I had to learn how to garden.”

While her next steps weren’t clear, Diane felt fortunate to have the time and resources needed to regroup. She’d been following the medical cannabis industry closely for some time and saw its potential from an investment perspective. In 2014 she started making investments in Canadian cannabis companies. 

What followed was a sequence of events which led Diane to explore cannabis farming in Jamaica. She was asked to consider investing in a family farm on the island, and while she initially said no as she felt only comfortable dealing with Canada, the idea stuck with her. 

“I took a conference call with the family who were looking to convert their sugarcane farm into medical cannabis. While we didn’t end up taking that opportunity, it made a few things very clear,” she says. First came the understanding that growing medical cannabis outdoors — what she calls a ‘natural grow’ in proprietary greenhouses — would ultimately be better for the end patient than growing it in big warehouses. And second, Diane came to learn that Jamaica has the most optimal growing environment, combined with regulations in line with what you’d see in Canada, Germany, and Australia. 

“We both reject the notion that you have to compromise profit in order to do good.”

Soon after Diane and a close friend in London, Tom Speechley, decided to build and launch a global venture capital business, SX2 Ventures. Their goal was to support innovation and long-term value creation in the human care sector, with a focus on life sciences, longevity, specialized care and emerging market healthcare solutions. “We were clear when we started that we wanted to do more with our investments. Rather than solely focusing on financial returns, we saw an opportunity to direct our funds to have a positive impact,” Diane explains. “We both reject the notion that you have to compromise profit in order to do good.” SX2 was an early expression of an environmental, social, governance (ESG) investment model years ahead of today’s standards. 

It was upon this ethos that JMCC was founded. “Starting SX2 naturally led us to create JMCC because we found there was nothing like it in the world. We saw the need, and believed that if it didn’t exist, we should build it.” After nine months of due diligence in the Jamaican market, Diane got on a plane to visit the island. 

“The huge learning curve for me became about the science and medicine,” she explains. And to help grow the business, Diane turned to people who she knew and trusted. “As an entrepreneur, you need to know your own strengths. We can’t be great at everything, so you need to build a team that’s great at everything.” Starting with her well-established network, Diane began to build the JMCC team, both in Jamaica and internationally. While Tom continued to run SX2, Diane focused on JMCC — taking a “divide and conquer approach.”

Diane knew her strategy with JMCC was unconventional from the get-go. “Being a female CEO who had chosen to do things differently than they were being done in Canada at the time, not going public, not growing in a big warehouse, cultivating on an island — I wasn’t making the most popular choices,” she recalls. Even still, she was clear on her vision and happy to be occupying a place that others were not.  

And her outside-the-box thinking paid off. In the five years since its inception, JMCC has become a fully integrated medical cannabis company, operating with a self-contained supply chain — from propagation and cultivation of raw materials supply, product development, manufacturing and packaging, through to global logistics and distribution. “We are the leading global provider of premium Jamaican medical cannabis products and services to the world.” 

She’s also in the final stages of organic certification, which should be in place by later this year. “Not many others can say they’re naturally grown, organic, and control their supply chain from start to finish. This allows us to ensure the highest possible quality patient experience,” explains Diane. “For JMCC, patient quality is at the center of everything we do. It has to be.” 

The company also just completed a joint venture in the Channel Islands, UK to establish a JMCC distribution hub in order to ensure seamless and timely prescription fulfillment to UK patients, and has expanded into an exclusive distribution agreement for the Australasian Region. 

Being a woman running a global medical cannabis company is unprecedented (the industry is dominated by men), but it has pushed Diane even harder to ensure an environment of equality for everyone on her team. “I’ve made it clear for all the women and teams I work with, that we are a company that will find the best talent — regardless of gender, religion, or sexual orientation — and that everyone who joins us has to believe and respect this.” 

Diane and her partner’s commitment to do their part to leave the world a better place has carried over in other ways to JMCC. “This is more than impact investing. We focus on profitable businesses that also are committed to doing good in the community,” she says. “We created the JMCC Foundation, and have committed to reinvest 10% back into communities, education, scientific research, and the medical cannabis industry.” 

“The idea of giving back has become more important to me the older I get. Societal benefit is as important as financials or unique value propositions when looking at an investment.

This includes working with academic institutions to support trials — such as an epilepsy trial being conducted via a Canadian university, which JMCC will provide the cannabis for at their own expense. They’re also one of only five companies in the world chosen to support Drug Science’s Project T21 — which is deemed to be the largest observational evidence-based study in the world, with a target of 20,000 UK patients.  

“The idea of giving back has become more important to me the older I get. Societal benefit is as important as financials or unique value propositions when looking at an investment. In SX2 and the companies we fund, we look for investment opportunities with those who share our vision for this.”  

Personally, Diane carries on that legacy with her involvement in community initiatives beyond her work. She’s a patron of a small school in Maasai Mara, Kenya on a 3,000-acre conservation area protected by the Kenyan Government. She was introduced to the school while on a business trip in Nairobi. “I had decided to stay over for a weekend and go on safari, and I met the manager of the safari who offered to take me to the local school,” she says. Since connecting with them, Diane has sponsored a water harvesting program that has allowed the school to harvest rainwater rather than the village mothers having to bring it from the river, which can be very dangerous. She’s also organized a program to ship books and sporting equipment from Canadian children to the children at this school, who are now learning to read in English. 

Diane is also a Royal Patron of the Royal Ontario Museum (also known as the ROM, in Toronto) and an Activator for SheEO, an organization which has built a $1B fund to help women-led businesses. SheEO is focused on investing to help with the ‘worlds to do list’.  She’s also a mentor and advocate for women, encouraging others to have confidence in themselves and their decisioning. 

“I think as women we don’t always feel like we deserve to be at the Board table, but the truth is, most of the time we’ve earned the right to sit in that seat,” she says. “Use your voice, share your knowledge and experiences, and contribute your thoughts as diversity always leads to better decision making.”  

She also has advice for anyone who is feeling the same sense of burnout and dissatisfaction she was before her pivot: “Doing what you love should be a career goal,” says Diane. “I don’t think people prioritize that enough.” 

How Nicole Neuman overcome gender barriers in engineering and became an international expert in her field.

Nicole Neuman

By Karen van Kampen

 

As a young girl, Nicole Neuman was very quick at learning new things. But picking up new concepts without a lot of effort had an unintended side effect, she says: “A lot of boredom.” So Nicole tried a variety of activities, from car repairs, to cooking, to metal and wood work. In university, she took all her pre-law and pre-med courses and completed most of her chemistry major before choosing engineering as a career. 

After more than two decades in the industry, Nicole has become an international expert in her field. As President and CEO of Synergy Engineering Ltd., she leads a team of electrical, instrumentation, and control engineers to design and supply turnkey projects around the world, primarily to the mining industry, as well as local infrastructure and industrial projects. 

Her impressive achievements are being recognized: Nicole was the 2020 winner of the Innovation Award, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours a forward-thinking entrepreneur who has demonstrated outstanding leadership within her company and industry while setting standards for originality, quality, and successful management. 

Looking back, Nicole says, “I was always very driven growing up.” When she started babysitting at the age of 12, Nicole made a resume and business cards. In high school, she saved up her money from lifeguarding and teaching swimming lessons to buy a snowboard as well as a car so that she could get to the hills at Whistler. From 1993 to 1995, she competed in snowboarding while attending university.  

In the mid-nineties, it wasn’t commonly accepted for women to be in electrical engineering — but this didn’t deter Nicole, who joined Synergy as a co-op student in 1995, while studying at Simon Fraser University. Three years later, she joined the company full-time. As she worked her way up in her field, Nicole experienced first-hand what it was like to be a woman in engineering. 

“I was met with hostility with a capital H,” she says. In one instance, Nicole was hired by a local mine to conduct a training course in an area in which she was an international expert. When she asked a conference room of engineers to open the manual that she had created, most of the men shut their binders, put their heads down, and closed their eyes, refusing to follow along. “I just carried on. What can you do?” she says. “When I left, I cried in my car, thinking, what am I doing here? Why am I doing this to myself?” 

As an entrepreneur, Nicole says it’s important to surround yourself with a network of like-minded mentors who have encountered similar barriers, as well as mentors with inspiring attributes that you admire. When you discover characteristics within yourself that help you to excel, she says, then you become a leader who others look to for inspiration. “That’s really empowering,” says Nicole. “Once you get to that stage, you want to keep growing because you want to keep leading, keep demonstrating.” 

Nicole has several powerful women mentors in her industry as well as a couple of men mentors who were early adopters to accepting women in the business. She says it’s important to see herself as an engineer in the mining industry rather than a woman in engineering. “There is this whole sentiment of going up against it, but you really need to think of it as joining it; joining the team,” she says. 

In 2015, there was a downturn in the mining industry, and Synergy faced a few hard years. Nicole was Executive Vice-President after working her way up in the company, and along with her team, she began targeting other markets and diversifying Synergy’s client base. 

At the end of 2019, Nicole took over as President of Synergy. Today, the company has between 50 and 60 employees and has expanded the manufacturing side of the business, with half of the employees in engineering and half in manufacturing. Nicole’s goal is to manage multiple projects with multiple teams at once to avoid downtime between projects. 

Nicole has worked hard to foster connection within her company and once COVID is over, she will continue focusing on team building and nurturing company morale that emphasizes personal values. “Our employees, I want what they do to have mattered to them, to have mattered to their children and grandchildren,” she says, adding that her long-term goal is to leave a legacy in which she looked after her company’s projects and the employees who ran them. “I want to leave a positive influence in people’s lives,” she says.  

Nicole has a strong relationship with her 11-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son. She volunteers as treasurer for hockey and Brownies, roles that keep her connected with her kids’ activities. Nicole recognizes her children’s drive and dedication for things that interest them. “I think they thrive to succeed in certain areas because they witness this of me,” she says. 

Since she was a girl, Nicole has always had a strong character. Reflecting on her experiences and challenges along the way, she says, “It has certainly crafted me into the strong individual that I am today.”