Every move corporate powerhouse Dia Simms makes is to create more opportunities for minorities and women.
“Representation is sorely lacking, and I really believe it’s important that we make sure we repeat that over and over again — and change it. ”
The former DeLeón executive was recently named the CEO of Lobos 1707, a luxe tequila and mezcal brand founded by Diego Osorio and backed by basketball star LeBron James.
Simms’ inspiration for her journey began in East Elmhurst, Queens, where she had a front-row seat to Salt-N-Pepa who danced in a neighboring backyard. Witnessing this female duo grow into a global phenomenon subconsciously impacted her to see the power in culture and the almighty buying power of the Black community.
Since then, Simms has served as the first president of Combs Enterprises and one of the few Black women to navigate the spirits world as an executive. So, how can Black women have a seat at the table? Simms suggests that “we build a bigger table.”
Editorial Note: Portions of this interview have been edited for clarity and length.
AfroTech: What inspired your transition into spirits?
Dia Simms: This is an industry that is a very wealthy industry yet minorities and women are grossly underrepresented and also, I think not appropriately portrayed. All people celebrate with spirits, but we were not profiting from it. And we have a chance to honor minorities on both sides of the bar.
AfroTech: What attracted you to Lobos 1707, specifically?
Dia Simms: There were a couple of different things. What was unique about Lobos was first Diego’s family has been in the wine and spirits industry for 400 years. His family crest is on the bottle, and you can actually taste the legitimacy and the legacy. Some brands have made up brand stories, but all we have to do for Lobos is tell the truth — the story is already there. And that really drew me to it. On top of that, LeBron very much believes that winning is a team sport, and it’s great to be with the team and to build a brand that reflects LeBron’s true heart and is built in that spirit. And we’re celebrating everybody along the way: the jimadors in the field, the night merchandisers, the women bartenders. Even our bottle is ergonomically better because we’re dedicated to our customers.
AfroTech: You’ve worked in many industries at the executive level. How have you navigated these spaces as a Black woman with little to no representation?
Dia Simms: I’m so delighted to be alive and witness the fact that we can freely have conversations about the lack of diversity and women in leadership. But the reality is that where we stand today is half a step forward in a million-mile marathon. When I worked at the Department of Defense, I was the youngest and only woman minority in a room with defense contractors. All I could do was make sure that I knew my shit. I was the one and only, and I want to change that. It shouldn’t be any individual responsibility, but it is. And I don’t mind it.
I treat every opportunity as a chance to educate people who just don’t often have any meaningful interaction. They are legitimately ignorant of deep relationships with minorities or sometimes with women. So I deal with those facts and say, what can I do to educate this group about how we’re actually more similar than different? There is no lack of capacity for infinite abundance, so let’s figure out how we can collaborate to get this money.
AfroTech: I can only imagine the pressure, the intimidation, and all the other things that come with it — sexism and racism in particular—that comes with having the first seat at a table. What gives you that extra push to continue to be a barrier breaker?
Dia Simms: At Lobos 1707, our entire approach is if there isn’t enough room, we build a bigger table. When I met with the founder, Diego Osorio, instead of spending two months trying to forecast the launch of a tequila brand in a pandemic, we figured out who we are first. Who are we going to hire? What is the stand for? How do we honor what it means to be a part of the Wolfpack with an alpha female and an alpha male? We spent a lot of time thinking through our manifesto and our heartbeat and what our office would be like, and today we’re more than 50% women and more than 60% ethnically diverse. We’ve already gone to the local community board to host community meetings at our office because we want to take care of the community we’re in and we want to serve the community we serve. And that has been the foundation upon which we built our business.
AfroTech: I’m glad that you mentioned that because one can assume you’d have to have a strong ethos throughout your career.
Dia Simms: Yeah, I always try to contribute something better than what it was when I got there. I’m a big believer in everybody has something to learn and everyone has something to teach, so whether I was at The Department of Defense or in advertising, I’m really thoughtful about bringing in people who are not heard, who don’t get a fair share.
AfroTech: What’s the importance and the significance of the Black dollar when you’re going into your decision making, knowing that on the opposite end there will be a majority of the Black community that will be consuming this product?
Dia Simms: The trillion-dollar buying power that Black Americans have is incredibly important to me from a business standpoint, as a CEO, and it’s enormously important to me as a member of that community. I also feel like as a business person, you have to really honor that. No matter what, no matter whether I was Black or not, I would understand this is a really powerful population. How am I being respectful and requited of the power that they wield? How am I making sure that the product I bring to them is supportive of their community, and how am I making sure that I’m hiring and supporting vendors that come from that community? You can’t just pop up in a community for Women’s History Month. If you honor this community, you honor it every day everywhere.
AfroTech: Absolutely. And you make a great point, because in this last year, obviously, we’ve seen this push to buy Black, but it can’t just be for this year during a pandemic or racial tension.
Dia Simms: I’ve seen that just firsthand. I’m 45-years-old. I’ve seen historically where other companies have given their lower-tier brands or lower levels of investment to different communities. No, trillion-dollar buying power deserves the best, the highest quality deserves. And I think that that’s important to us. And, you know, we developed Lobos with that in mind.
AfroTech: Throughout your career, I’m pretty sure that you’ve picked up a lot of lessons, whether it be in life or business along the way. What are some of those top ones that you carry with you throughout your work?
Dia Simms: The first thing is the importance of kindness and civility. Above everything else, the simple things like saying please and thank you and being respectful is most important, no matter what I’m doing. Also, I’ve learned to be a huge advocate of having some level of ownership. What are you investing in? What’s your portfolio look like? Are you supporting what your local nail salon looks like? It can be anything but own something because working hard to build somebody else’s dream is the biggest risk you take. Be creative about how you get your ownership, but start the journey.