D’Angela “Dia” Simms started off as Sean “Diddy” Combs’ executive assistant 12 years ago. But with the “can’t stop, won’t stop” hustle, she’s climbed the ranks with style and grace and she’s now president of Diddy’s media, lifestyle and entertainment brand Combs Enterprises.
Mother, wife and top executive at one of the most influential brands today, Simms is all about the culture, and pushing it in one direction — forward. Ask her what she loves the most about her job, she’ll tell you it’s, “the ability to work and be part of shaping culture. That’s what gets me up everyday.”
Her Agenda spoke with Simms to talk about her goals as president, what’s it really like working for Diddy, some of her productivity hacks and how the power of being kind has taken her far in her career.
Her Agenda: How do you foster creativity and innovation in a role like yours?
Dia Simms: I think you can find innovation in a lot of everyday moments. You know the cliche, ‘a lot of the greatest inventions come out of necessity.’ We have our formal brainstorming processes, but a lot of the greatest ideas come out of looking and noticing where the white space is. Look at what is happening in real life. Be a scientist in terms of the way you understand what’s happening socially. Then, how do you hone into that, make it amazing and extrapolate it into a larger level?
Her Agenda: Speaking of new opportunities, being president, in your role for almost a year now, what is one thing that you want to change? What is your goal being president?
Dia Simms: What’s most important to me is the way we approach our recruitment in general. When you look at being on a winning team, if you’re on the Yankees, Patriots, Dodgers or a team that has history of relentless wins, you think about how do you approach your scouting process. I’ve really taken a step back and looked at what is the profile of a superstar? And to be really clear, maybe on paper it’s not super obvious this individual is a super star, but what are the essential tenets that we can help bring out of somebody and really nurture them, so they can become superstars in our environment or we get the opportunity to work alongside a superstar that we then can launch back into the world and have great allies in the world. I say a lot of times to our human resources team to really think about the way we recruit team members.
Her Agenda: With recruiting, what is a quality you look for someone?
Dia Simms: It’s four things I think of: resourcefulness is critical, intelligence, being relentless, and I genuinely look for a level of kindness and civility. We spend an enormous amount of time at work. I really care and try to assess ‘is this person, at the end of the day, going to be focused on the greater good?’ We all can get things done and be no nonsense, but are they kind at the root of who they are?
I think when you’re building a culture, it’s important to me that you work with people that you can respect as a human beyond whatever their technical competency is.
Her Agenda: Do you think that’s one trait you have that makes you different compared to other employees?
Dia Simms: I really do genuinely care about the people I work with. I come from a place of extraordinary gratitude. I don’t take it for granted when I get to work along with somebody. I don’t take it for granted when everybody brings something to the table. I think you build a different level of loyalty to the relationship. Nobody is saying you have to be best friends with everyone you work with, but we should all care about each other as individuals. We’re living in a time where civility is getting harder and harder to find. So, it’s increasingly important to me the company that I’m running becomes a safe haven. That doesn’t mean that everybody gets along. It doesn’t mean there’s not some level of discord or confrontation, but let us at least endeavor in our approach to winning to do it in a way that is respectful, civil and kind.
Her Agenda: You’ve mentioned a number of quotes, what’s a motto that has encouraged you day in and out?
Dia Simms: I tell my four-year-old daughter this, ‘Champions never stop practicing.’ At Combs Enterprises, we’re really proud of the fact that we’ve had a series of consistent wins. You can’t win on accident. You get complacent on every win. Whatever it is I think it’s important to not stop. Forgive me for the obvious cliche, but the ‘can’t stop, won’t stop’ is serious because it’s easy to get run over if you’re standing still.
As you hit these various benchmarks in your life, you win, and you feel like a champion at the moment. Another quote that is in our cultural guide book is ‘no sleeping in the trophy room.’ It’s cool to win and we’re happy to celebrate. You should live in that moment, and be happy of your accomplishments, but what are you doing next?
Her Agenda: What is one aspect of your career you’re a big advocate for? For example, is it health and wellness, finances or mentorship?
Dia Simms: In the context of starting out in your career, be more okay with taking risks and really get comfortable with negotiating. I’ve never told this story, but many years ago, when I was Sean’s chief of staff, we were hiring for a personal chef position and there was a young woman, who’s gone off to do really well. We loved her and thought she was great. We said ‘Hey, tell us what your salary range is?’ And, I’ve never done this since, but what she proposed was somewhat preposterous for New York. I said ‘Listen, as woman to woman, I need you to go on payscale.com and then look at New York City apartments, go do the research, call me back at the end of the day and then tell me what you’re proposing.’
A job is an exchange of services. So, you need to propose something that’s appropriate for what you’re going to be contributing because let’s not be confused, you’ll be contributing a lot when it comes to Combs Enterprises because that is the way we work.
So, what I found for people entering their career, at this point with women, you’ve got to be okay with asking what you’re worth. You’ve got to be okay with renegotiating and be okay with taking risks. When I look at my career, I don’t have some steady clear pathway. I’ve done pharmaceutical sales, ran a marketing company, worked at the Department of Defense and now with Combs Enterprises and a host of different brands, but I was okay with doing things I did not know how to do. I would encourage more people to say ‘I’m going to count on myself and take a risk.’ I think people tend to think everyone one in the world is extremely well verse. Almost everyone out here is figuring it out.
Her Agenda: With you working at Combs Enterprises, I’m sure you’ve made a handful of mistakes. What’s one mistake you’ve made and how did you redeem yourself from it?
Dia Simms: The number one thing Sean looks for is high accountability. You can be right or you can be wrong, but can you be responsible and accountable for moving it forward for the appropriate level of progression? I remember very early on, I was Sean’s executive assistant, and we could not find his dogs. We organized a search party in the office building and three and a half hours later, they were hiding in some closet upstairs [laughs]. It’s funny because out of that, we’ve done amazing things. We’ve built terrific brands with Ciroc Vodka, Revolt TV, Deleon Tequila, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop (the movie), but when I think about the last 12 years the most ‘oh God, please!’ moment I think of was really ‘where are these dogs?’ The good news in that is it’s easier to tell the story once it’s resolved [laughs].
Her Agenda: What are some of your productivity hacks? What are some things you do as president that gets you powering through your day?
Dia Simms: First thing in the morning, I put together a daily snapshot. I share it with Sean but it is also very much for me. There’s a quote that Sean says all the time ‘I can make money, but I can’t make time.’ It’s critically important. One thing anybody who knows me will say is I’m pretty obsessive about time. People really underestimate how much you can get done in 60 seconds. When you look at the totality of the day, you can accomplish enormous things if you are in charge of the day. I really live by ‘You run the day or the day runs you.’ It’s very easy at the pace that we work. You could work here for three years, look back and say ‘What did I do?’ So, you need to be calculated about your plan and your blueprint for the day at the microsecond level to ensure maximum output.
I don’t think this is a hack, but inspiration comes from everywhere, and I’ve been really fortunate to get great ideas from whoever it is. Everybody is a consumer of something, so it’s critical to engage and get information from the people you work alongside, you hang out with, your great aunty in Kentucky. You’d be surprised the wealth of information you can get on how to build a brand, and what’s important to consumers, but just tapping into your own personal network.
[Editor's note: This interview published on January 15th, 2018. It has been edited for length and clarity.]