No Nonsense Leadership
Sam Morris' mission is to give businesses peace of mind
When Sam Morris travels for work, she brings a large plastic tote filled with marijuana and drug paraphernalia. Inside, she’s got everything from edible THC gummies and THC-laced beverages to potent synthetic THC cookies. Aside from a small marijuana leaf on the package, they look like a snack you’d pick up at a convenience store. She’s got a few joints in there as well, with attractive names on the labels like Biscotti and Girl Scout Cookie.
There’s also the collection of vape pens, which can be used for marijuana or nicotine, and slender, shiny dab pens that look like something you’d find on an executive’s desk. She’s got a handful of the tiny containers that look like lip balm that hold cannabis concentrate for “dabbing” mixed in with a few other surprises in the box.
She’s ready to answer questions about all of it.
Sam is co-owner and vice president of Chemnet Consortium, which helps companies across Montana and throughout the region implement and maintain drug and alcohol testing programs. The company is based in Billings and also offers TSA pre-check fingerprinting and documentation, background checks and DNA and paternity testing.
The company serves about 1,200 clients, and Sam provides them with education so business owners, supervisors and other key employees know what to look for and how to react when someone is drinking or using drugs on the job. When they have reasonable suspicion, Chemnet provides the drug and alcohol screening.
It’s a no-nonsense business that Sam leads with compassion. She works alongside a team of six full time employees and a handful of parttime employees.
“The stuff we deal with can be highly emotional. You have to be nonjudgmental,” she says. “We sit with people who are likely to lose their job.”
Drug and alcohol screenings can be performed as a part of pre-employment, after an accident, or if there’s reasonable suspicion, and some companies have random drug-testing policies.
“Basically, our clients call Chemnet and we handle it from point A to point Z,” Sam says.
Chemnet employees also provide referrals to drug treatment programs and addiction counselors for those who fail their screenings.
“I never knew my heart would break for addicts. Once I learned about addiction, understanding it a little better was very eye opening for me,” Sam says.
The recent legalization of marijuana in Montana is a major concern for business owners. The drug may be legal, but showing up to work high or getting high on the job is not OK.
“How do you create a safe work environment in a state with legalized marijuana? We’re learning that,” Sam says.
Sam and her husband, Stan, purchased Chemnet 10 years ago. They were introduced to the opportunity by their accountant, and after learning more about it, they decided to go for it.
“There was never a question of should we do this,” Sam says. “It was, if we can make this work then we should make it work.”
Stan is a pilot for a major airline and flies full-time. He’s always ready to help with big decisions at the company but leaves the day-to-day management to Sam. There’s a mountain of logistics involved in maintaining multiple testing sites across the state and region, but Sam is focused on creating a workplace culture that empowers her employees to reach their potential.
“I am really passionate about creating a place where people want to come to work,” Sam says. “Creating that environment is by biggest concern.”
It wasn’t that long ago that the company struggled with a toxic workplace culture. Sam admits that she allowed it to slide, and it had gotten so bad even she didn’t want to come to work.
“When you’re walking in to work with a pit in your stomach every day, then something’s wrong,” Sam says.
Part of the turnaround included Enneagram personality assessments. Each employee took the simple assessment to learn which one of nine different personality types they are. It’s been a helpful tool, especially in communication and helping each employee find their niche within the office.
“We needed to find out how everybody is wired so we can talk to each other in the way that works best for each person,” Sam says. “Just knowing our differences has made a huge difference in our culture.”
A list of six workplace values also hangs on the wall of the company’s break room. Besides being a reminder of what’s expected, they validate the progress they’ve made as a team.
Tracy Webb joined the Chemnet team two years ago and says she never experienced such a positive and encouraging workplace culture in all her years of employment.
“We don’t have to work to be happy, we are happy,” she says. Chemnet’s investment in each of its employees has paid off.
Sam makes sure her team members are recognized not just for their hard work but also for the little things. They celebrate birthdays and employment anniversaries. Sam has had to learn to balance her involvement with operations and how to empower her employees.
“One of the biggest things I’ve learned about myself is that I don’t have to be in the way all the time,” Sam says. “If your business starts and ends with you then there’s nothing in between. It took me a lot of personal growth to get there.”
Sam didn’t start out with her eye on business ownership. She had her eye on the sky. She wanted to be a pilot, and it was a dream from the time she was young.
“I had parents who never really said, ‘You can’t do that’ – and I took that seriously,” Sam says.
Sam met her husband when she was 16. He was a couple of years older and had just gotten his private pilot’s license. Sam went flying with him every chance she got. They both attended Rocky Mountain College and graduated with degrees in aeronautical science. After marrying and starting a family, Sam decided she wanted to stay at home with their children, who are now 18 and 16. When the children were young, Sam managed airline contracts, which was lucrative and flexible. Throughout it all she maintained her pilot’s license and flight instructor certification.
“I’ve always loved instructing,” Sam says.
That’s why seven years ago she jumped at the chance to join the Rocky Mountain College Aviation Program faculty as the lead coach for the flight team. The flight team is an intercollegiate competition for young pilots. Rocky’s team includes 12 pilots who participate in competitions across the region. Pilots are judged on landings, takeoffs, navigation and other aspects of flying.
“My passion with flying is really to expose young people to aviation,” Sam says.
Sam has several young female pilots on her team, which reflects the trend the industry has seen in the last 30 years toward more women in aviation.
“That shift has been positive, and watching the kids, they don’t have that stigma,” Sam says. “There’s still that old-timer mentality out there, but you don’t hear it as much.”
When Sam is not running her company or soaring across the sky, she serves on the Tumbleweed board, Better Billings board and council for Harvest Church. She’s also member of the Yellowstone County DUI Task Force.
Kim Davidson, a friend and fellow business owner, has long admired Sam for her professional and personal values. Recently the two were on a trip, and while at a coffee shop, two young men held the door for them. Sam noticed their kind gesture and anonymously bought their drinks.
“She always goes above and beyond,” Kim says. “It’s always more than the average person would do, and she never expects anything in return.”