D’Angela “Dia” Simms doesn’t believe in leaning in. She thinks the concept of trying to sit at the decision-making table and seizing the opportunity once it arises historically hasn’t worked for women and racial minorities. She believes in building her own table — a bigger one.
In summer 2020, the Morgan State University graduate and current Howard County resident joined Lobos 1707, a tequila and mezcal company, as its CEO. The new position came after she spent close to 15 years working with mogul Sean Combs, better known as Diddy — most recently as his company’s president overseeing such brands as CÎROC Ultra-Premium Vodka, Bad Boy Entertainment, and Revolt TV.
In her new role, she knew she wanted to tackle the dearth of women and Black representation in the spirits industry.
“Our message is that if there isn’t enough room at the table, we build a bigger table,” she said. “There has been this incorrect belief that diversity is either-or.”
The New York City-based company has a workforce of 30 that is 60% women. And half of its C-suite positions are women, according to Simms. In the wine and spirits industry, 4% of C-suite positions are held by women, according to 2019 data by McKinsey & Co.
The company’s Lower East Side fourth-floor walk-up offices also have a unique approach in that the creative studio space hosts film screenings and performances for free.
“We know that the brand’s success is because of that diversity and not despite it,” said Simms, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Morgan State University. She received a master’s degree in management from the Florida Institute of Technology.
Simms, who was born in Monterey, California, was raised in Queens, New York. She graduated from Morgan State in 1999 — the same year she met her husband, Keith Simms, a neuroscience area manager in the pharmaceutical industry. Before working for Diddy, Simms was employed in a variety of fields — including pharmaceutical sales, military contracting and advertising. She moved back to the Baltimore region in 2015 from Atlanta — in part — to be closer to her husband’s family.
She was named “One of the Most Powerful Executives in the Industry” by Billboard in 2017 and 2018, and has been on the Ebony ‘Power 100′ list.
To accomplish what Simms has done, she has had to exhibit a number of characteristics, according to Karyl Leggio, professor of finance at Loyola University Maryland’s Sellinger School of Business.
“You have to have that doggedness to say, ‘I’m going to get there.’ She’s very bright, well-spoken and forceful. You have to be willing to push through,” Leggio said.
What Simms has accomplished is not easy, according to Leggio.
“She is facing an exorbitant amount of roadblocks in this industry. She’s a pioneer in the field,” Leggio said. “It’s hard being the first or the first of a few. [And] building diversity in both ethnic and gender diversity is a challenge in an industry that just doesn’t have it is also difficult.”
Lobos 1707 was founded in 2019 by Diego Osorio, a documentarian and actor from Spain whose family has been involved with the spirits industry for the past century. The tequila is known for its unique sherry finish. The company, which launched in fall 2020, also has celebrity investors such as LeBron James and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Simms, a self-admitted fan of James’ work on and off the basketball court, has been impressed by his drive and dedication to the company.
“He’s a significant investor,” Simms said while declining to disclose the extent of James’ financial involvement with the company.
“Anytime we have a meeting, he shows up early. He’s prepared all the time. He brought that discipline, focus and consistency to Lobos.”
In addition to tequila, working for the company has turned Simms into an expert on a surprising topic: wolves. “Lobos” is a Mexican timber wolf, a theme that permeates the corporate culture.
“We very much built this brand with the feeling of the way that the wolf pack lives,” Simms explained. “There are certain interesting things about the beautiful community of how wolf packs move together.”
In addition to her work at Lobos 1707, Simms also plans to lead Pronghorn, an initiative that will launch in the first quarter of 2022, which aims to add 1,800 Black people to the spirits industry by 2030 through employment, internships, mentorships and apprenticeships. The new venture will look to achieve diversity, equity and inclusion through investment, incubation and recruitment.
The name Pronghorn, the second-fastest land animal in the world — behind the cheetah — was chosen because it can run long distances fast, according to Simms.
“We have a lot of ground to cover. And we don’t have a lot of time,” explained Simms, who founded the company with Erin Harris and Dan Sanborn. The three have more than 50 years of experience in the beverage industry among them.
Harris, who is also the chief marketing officer at Lobos 1707, added: “Diversity is good for business. Brands need to understand that you need to really look and feel like the people you serve and show up for the community in the right way.”
Simms’ efforts to diversify the spirits industry are the best way of establishing a talent pool and pipeline of diverse employees, according to Leggio.
“How much better will the industry be when you have different perspectives at the table?” Leggio said.
This article is part of our Newsmaker series, which profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor Kamau High at email@example.com.