Rising Through Resilience: James Mish of 22nd Century Group On The Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine


Be prepared, for success and failure.

There’s no doubt that you need to prepare your plan and be disciplined about following it. Life and business often conspire to not let you follow that path. So, have a Plan A and give thought to Plan B and C. You need to continually adjust and reset that plan when the unexpected challenge or opportunity arises.

Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing James Mish.

James Mish was appointed Chief Executive Officer of 22nd Century Group in June 2020. He has an outstanding track record of delivering profitable growth at both privately-held and publicly-traded science-driven companies with a focus on pharmaceutical and consumer products commercialization. Prior to joining 22nd Century, he served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Purisys, a synthetic cannabinoid API, ingredients and solutions provider to pharmaceutical and consumer products companies, and Noramco, a global leader in the production of controlled substances for the pharmaceutical industry. There, Mish led the private equity carve out of Noramco from Johnson & Johnson/Janssen Pharmaceuticals and spearheaded the subsequent creation and spinoff of Purisys from Noramco. Mish began his career at Pfizer in research and development before holding positions of increasing responsibility at several companies including as President of Ashland Specialty Ingredients — Consumer Specialties, a major division of Ashland Corporation, a premier, global specialty materials company serving customers in a wide range of consumer and industrial markets.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

Growing up where I did, and with the values my family stressed, helped me learn the importance of resiliency. I was born in a small, depressed Pennsylvania steel mill town where, every day, I saw examples of hard work, determination, and courage. In many cases those people achieved their goals, whether it was working in the mills to put a meal on the table for their family or moving elsewhere to achieve success in the world. As I got older, I noticed that the people who seemed to make it and create a successful life were resilient. They found ways to endure setbacks in their lives and find the courage to start again — and sometimes reinvent themselves several times over in their careers. My parents were professionals, so I was fortunate to have the education and role models to pursue a life beyond the confines of our town, but I had to earn my own way.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

A lot of interesting things happened — and are still happening — in my career, but the most interesting was set at the start. It was the continual affirmation that staying true to one overriding goal, no matter the magnitude of the obstacles or setbacks, pays off in the end.

I can summarize what I learned by two phrases: dream big and set goals. I believe the most interesting story is how I set a goal for myself early on — at the start of my career. Most young professionals entering the workplace are not guided to do this, but I was fortunate to have great mentors and role models. My goal from the gate was to become CEO of a life science company, and I knew it would take hard work, learning as much as I could, and demonstrating determination. So, at the outset I decided what I wanted to do and never took my eye off the ball, never let anything get in the way. Every job, every position, every opportunity, I remained focused and steadfast.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

22nd Century Group stands out because our technology, leadership, IP, and products are truly remarkable. And we are mission driven. As a plant biotechnology company, focusing on making the plants we love even better, we have three business units: tobacco, hemp/cannabis, and hops.

One story about our tobacco business centers on helping to offset the nearly one half million preventable deaths that occur each year due to cigarette smoking. Our mission here is to help people smoke less and mitigate the widespread death and disease caused by smoking. We recently introduced the world’s first and only 95% reduced nicotine (conventional) cigarette. This story ends in success, as our VLN® cigarette recently received MRTP authorization (modified risk tobacco product) from the FDA. We recently initiated a pilot launch in Chicago and the surrounding area, where VLN® is now available at select Circle K Stores. A reduced nicotine content cigarette with 95% less nicotine represents a new, innovative approach to a decades-old problem, and a new option for smokers for whom nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) has not been effective.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I have to start by saying that nothing demonstrates success more than a team pulling together, each member with their own strengths and weaknesses. I’ve observed and cultivated the positive outcomes of team courage and resiliency throughout my entire career. But if I had to pick one person, it would be the CEO of a family-owned specialty chemicals company where I worked for five years in a fiercely competitive industry. It’s from him that I learned a critical aspect of determination. He never let obstacles stand in his way, even with significant setbacks. He never let go of the drive, continuous learning, and stick-to-it-iveness that led to his success. I worked with him 15 years ago and just for five years. I wish it had been longer. I can see his impact today on the 22nd Century Group and our culture.

Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?

They are symbiotic; one of them cannot help you advance and succeed without the other. I think courage generally comes into play with decision making. We constantly face tough decisions, and they usually are not black and white. I have learned time and again that it is rare that we make decisions with 100% certainty, so it takes courage to take a step forward into the unknown. Should that fail, and a lot of the time it will, we can’t let remorse, an unsuccessful project, or regret paralyze us. If an endeavor fails, that does not mean we are a failure. It’s that initiative did not come to fruition. If we do not learn from these setbacks, we are missing tremendous opportunities that can fuel future success. We practice this at 22nd Century Group. Our people do not give up; we innovate, create better systems and ways of achieving our mission, and we celebrate our wins along the way.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

This, would without a doubt, be Winston Churchill. He was often correct well before others recognized trends or issues and typically had to fend for himself to influence and execute successfully. Never allowing setbacks to keep him from reaching his objectives. I think this is the definition of resilience.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

Sure. I had just stepped into a leadership position at a company that was going through a turnaround. Everything was in place, and then, within the first 30 days, the market collapsed. I don’t think there was one person at that time who didn’t tell me saving the company was impossible. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t easy, and plenty of times I thought I’d fail, but I’m proud to say that with courage, determination, and planning — both mine and of my team — I relaunched that company onto a successful trajectory.

I think the important thing to remember though, is that every single day people are going to tell you, in big ways and in small, that certain things are impossible. My advice is don’t believe them! If you have a plan and you execute it with determination and resiliency, you are likely to prove them wrong.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

One of my greatest setbacks was the delay in 22nd Century Group receiving the MRTP from the FDA. Many people doubted it would ever happen and the criticism was intense. I always believed it was inevitable, and that setback only made me dig in more to assure that it would happen, and it did, in December 2021.

How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

Again, my roots are growing up in a small, depressed, steel mill town where hopes were low and most people were struggling just to provide for their families. I knew that I had to get out of that town to be successful, and in order to do that, I needed a college degree. My main struggle growing up was finding jobs and steady work that would help me achieve my college dream. Looking back, it may be hard to believe that college could have been out of my reach, but if I hadn’t continuously found work when I was growing up, it would have been.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are five steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

#1: The first step is recognition.

You need to know where you’re going, or where you want to go. Set that as your North Star and don’t let anything stand in the way of achieving it.

Example: As I said, when I began my career at Pfizer and saw the health-focused work going on around me, I set my goal to become CEO of a pharmaceutical company. With this determination and with the help of countless colleagues, advisors, friends, and family, I was able to accomplish that.

#2: Accept the fact that you will fail — over and over again.

It may sound strange to embrace failure, but it’s the only way to not fail in reaching your ultimate goal. In fact, experiencing setbacks and finding the way to move forward is the essence of resiliency, and what will lead to success.


All along my journey, ideas of mine that I was certain about failed primarily due to external / non controllable forces. Acceptance of that failure and executing on what you can control is the important lesson.

#3: Be prepared, for success and failure.

There’s no doubt that you need to prepare your plan and be disciplined about following it. Life and business often conspire to not let you follow that path. So, have a Plan A and give thought to Plan B and C. You need to continually adjust and reset that plan when the unexpected challenge or opportunity arises.


Planning for success is often forgotten. Most people think about contingencies if something goes wrong. I spend an equal amount of time planning for the upside in anticipation of greater success than expected. In one example, I built contingency plans of rapid surge demand after an ingredient launch in case the uptake had a cult like following. As it turns out, it did — and we were able to keep up with supply.

#4: Don’t let people talk you out of something if you believe in your dream.

There’s no shortage of influence in our lives — in the news, in the board room, online, and from our circle of family, colleagues, mentors, and friends. These can all be valuable, but at the end of the day, you need to keep your eye on your goal and have the courage to do what you think is right, without being deterred by the risk of failing.


One of my professional dreams was to become a CEO of a publicly traded company focused on life science in some manner. If I had listened to the multitude of voices that indicated along the way that this was too ambitious, I would not have ever progressed past a manager level.

#5: Embrace the ambiguity.

The decisions we face are rarely black and white. Lean into that and use facts, smart counsel, and courage to pick what seems to you to be the best at that time. If you fail, you learn from your team and others — and refine your strategy.


Every day, I need to make important decisions based on having less than 100% of the data and facts needed. Sometimes it’s very distant from 100% so you decide based on what’s available and trust your instincts.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the world, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I joined 22nd Century because I embrace the company’s mission of reducing the harm caused by cigarette smoking, and I can’t think of anything better to do that than making a dent in reducing the 1,300 people who die based on harm caused by cigarette smoking every day. We’ve started a movement with a brand new, FDA-authorized product that is proven to help people smoke less. The FDA estimates that eight million lives could be saved over the next 80 years if nicotine levels in all cigarettes were reduced to “minimally addictive levels.” We have now introduced our VLN® cigarette, the only one authorized by the FDA as an off-ramp to smoking. Studies show that at least half of all adult smokers try to quit each year, and we are giving them an alternative that tastes, smells and burns like a cigarette, while greatly reducing their nicotine consumption. Disassociating the drug (nicotine) from the physical habit-forming act of smoking, is what VLN® achieves, and we believe there is no greater mission.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)

I’d have to say Dr. Albert Bourla, Chairman and CEO of Pfizer. He literally changed the course of human health when he led Pfizer to create the first safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine — in just 18 months. This would normally take years of R&D to develop. I would love to hear about the challenges he faced under crushing pressure and how he overcame them. I imagine I’d hear some of the same themes we covered here: being driven to set your sights on something that others deem impossible and using courage, determination, and resilience to overcome whatever stands in your way. In Dr. Bourla’s case, it was staring down the greatest, unexpected threat to human life that we’ve ever seen. I’d be fascinated to speak with him about that, not just because I am a Pfizer alumn!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow our advances by visiting us at xxiicentury.com, on Twitter, on LinkedIn, and on YouTube. As we’ve discussed, 22nd Century Group is a leading agricultural biotechnology company focused on tobacco harm reduction, reduced nicotine tobacco, and improving health and wellness through modern plant science. You’ll also learn about our recent acquisition of GVB Biopharma, one of the largest providers of hemp-derived active ingredients for the pharmaceutical and consumer goods industries worldwide. This acquisition establishes 22nd Century Group as a global, one-of-a-kind company serving the rapidly growing hemp/cannabis ingredient market. It is transformational for us — and for the consumers we serve. Stay tuned for more!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.



Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor