MyMBA Meets with Pete Kadens: Founder, CEO, and Philanthropist

Pete Kadens, Chairman of The Kadens Family Foundation, joined MyMBA on October 25th to give his insights into the business world based on his experience founding and leading several companies. Per Pete’s LinkedIn, “Pete retired in August 2018 as CEO of Green Thumb Industries, one of the largest publicly-traded, legal cannabis operators in the US with a current market capitalization of over $2 billion. Prior to Green Thumb Industries, in 2008 Pete started one of the largest commercial solar companies in the US, SoCore Energy. Under his leadership, SoCore expanded operations into 17 states and was named one of Chicago’s most innovative businesses by Chicago Innovation Awards. In 2013, he sold SoCore Energy to Edison International, a Fortune 500 energy holding company.” 

Pete joined our MyMBA meeting and offered details into his career story and the lessons he learned. Learning first hand from someone who has started 3 successful businesses was eye opening on what it means to take risks, trust your instincts, and persevere through hardships. 

(Note, the following is my summary of our conversation based on my interpretation of Pete’s story). 

Pete opened the conversation explaining the value of authenticity. As a leader of thousands of employees across several companies, Pete understands this more than most. He stressed that authenticity has been instrumental in his dealings with others. The more open and authentic you are with others, the more open they will be with you. Having people be open and honest with you is a key skill in leadership and managing other people. 

Pete talked about his decision to leave finance to start his first company. This was a lesson on risk. Pete saw the risk of staying in finance and not enjoying his work as a high risk, regardless of money. With a degree and some work experience, the downside of leaving his job was not actually that large. In the worst case, he could find another job in corporate America if his company did not pan out. 

His first company did pan out – Pete started and sold his first business, Acquirent, a dedicated outsourced sales company. After Acquirent, Pete followed his instincts. He took time to understand the market dynamics and political incentives for renewable energy. In 2008, Pete founded SoCore and it quickly became a multi-million dollar solar developer.

We went deeper into Pete’s tactics of selling SoCore’s services to clients. In order to gain legitimacy for SoCore, Pete’s mission was to land a Fortune 500 Company as a client. To do this, Pete looked to further understand the psychology of the type of person on the other side of the sale. What could Pete do to make them look great in the eyes of their company and their boss? How could Pete offer such an exceptional product that it could elevate the person he was selling to? Once he was able to sell to large companies like JCPenny and Walgreens, Pete built the necessary reputation to sell to additional large companies. 

This brought our conversation to Pete’s co-founding of Green Thumb Industries (GTI). Again, Pete trusted his instincts and sensed an opportunity with the changing political environment. He saw the arc of cannabis legalization across the United Stated and aimed to capitalize on it in Illinois. Diving into another political industry, Pete learned all he could about the regulations and how to best position GTI to be a leader in an evolving industry.

Pete served as the CEO for almost 3 years and GTI went public in 2018. GTI’s current market cap is over $3 billion. As Pete has expressed publicly, he stepped down from his CEO position to spend more time with his family. On a more personal level, we discussed the importance of knowing your personal priorities with work, family, and other goals in life.

Pete now serves as the Chairman of The Kadens Family Foundation, “a charitable organization dedicated to closing the pervasive wealth and education gaps in the US.” Pete is a dedicated philanthropist and served as a chairman of StreetWise (2009 – 2018), one of the largest homeless aid organizations in Chicago.

MyMBA thanks Pete for being so generous with his time and being open and candid with our group.

MyMBA is an alternative MBA education experience. MyMBA brings together cohorts of driven business professionals who meet with business leaders like Pete, build their online brand, and take free online business school classes from top MBA programs like Wharton. Learn more by visiting our home page:

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