Former Detroit Lions players, Primitiv owners emphasize workplace culture

Published 3:25 pm Friday, June 9, 2023

NILES — It was a star-studded affair at the Greater Niles Chamber of Commerce’s Chamber Pulse Luncheon Wednesday at The Morris Estate.

NFL Hall of Famer and former Detroit Lion Calvin Johnson and former Lion Rob Sims, co-owners of Primitiv Group, were on hand as keynote speakers for the event.

Primitiv, a Michigan-based cannabis and wellness company, has operated in Niles since 2021. The duo was asked a variety of questions ranging from their time as professional football players to their current mission of moving the cannabis industry forward through their Primitiv brand. 

“I think what sets us apart often is that we have a little bit of celebrity with our brand, but I really think it’s about where we’re trying to go with it,” Johnson Jr. said. “You start with why we call ourselves Primitiv and think about thousands of years, people have been using cannabis or plant medicine in general, so by nature of the definition, cannabis is primitive. Where cannabis is going, I think our target is really the new customer. Where we are trying to take cannabis – the innovation – that’s what’s going to bring in new customers.

“That’s where, with research and new data, we will be able to unveil the really good powers of this plant and bring about a higher level of quality of life for the masses.”

A recurring theme was their emphasis on culture, which Johnson Jr. and Sims believe to be at the crux of a successful organization.

“The culture is so big,” Sims said. “We were on some really talented teams but there was always something missing that was the reason we couldn’t get over the hump, and it was culture. That’s the one thing at Primitiv that won’t be our demise and that’s culture. We’re going to put as much effort into culture and our people as we possibly can. It was hard to get started, but now I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.”

Johnson Jr. and Sims added that former Lions head coach Jim Caldwell had a tremendous impact on both their playing careers at the time as well as their careers post-football.

“When he first came in, he was actually trying to change the culture,” Sims said. “That really stuck with me because he was always that guy who was managing 53 men, really egomaniacs, to be honest with you. He was able to keep us playing and going in one direction and I said I’m gonna do that. With cannabis, we were able to come in and establish our own rules and way of doing things and I think the proof is in the pudding. A lot of our team members are now in leadership roles because of the culture that we bring to it and how we try to cultivate people. We’re seeing it in front of our eyes and it’s great to see that what we can do here, we can do anywhere.”

Johnson Jr. and Sims brought several members of the Primitiv team to the luncheon, including general manager and Niles native Ryan Horn.

“I think first and foremost, it starts with the foundation that you build before you bring anybody in,” Sims said. “After that, the biggest thing really is developing your leaders. Our general manager Ryan has been instrumental in that. We had never done retail, we had never done cannabis and the team that has come behind him is just a reflection of his leadership and our leadership. We try to put people in the right spot and give people the right opportunities and if they’re just a little bit patient with us, we can take them a long way.”

Sims encouraged business owners looking to build a good team to lay the foundation and find the right leadership they want to see in their organization.

“It’s a bumpy ride,” he said. You have to find the people that are committed to the vision and want to succeed.”