“If there isn’t enough room, we build a bigger table. There’s always room. The world’s abundant. We’ll just make more room.”
BOOM. Wise words spoken by the CEO of Lobos 1707 Tequila & Mezcal, Dia Simms.
Throughout her storied career, Simms has seen and experienced firsthand the challenges of being a woman of color in leadership. In her previous role, as the president of Combs Enterprises, Simms oversaw brands under Diddy‘s empire, including CÎROC Ultra-Premium Vodka, Blue Flame Agency, AQUAhydrate, Bad Boy Entertainment, Sean John, and Revolt TV. In 2020, she joined Lobos 1707 as CEO.
Launched last year, and founded by actor and businessman Diego Osorio, Lobos 1707 is a luxe tequila and mezcal brand. And while there are many new entries in that market of late, few count LeBron James and his business partner Maverick Carter as early investors. Lobos translates to “wolves” in Spanish and the 1707 crew of Osorio, Simms, James, and the rest of their partners take that name very seriously — nicknaming themselves the wolfpack.
“I feel like a Nat Geo expert now,” Simms says. “Because we’ve actually studied like, ‘what does it mean? How do wolves move? How do they take care of one another?’ They have an alpha female and an alpha male. They actually nurture one another and are highly social, intelligent, and emotionally care for one another, and understand the strength of the community. Each of us is strong in our own ways, but the power together is unshakable and unbreakable.”
Much of that power, on the business side, comes from the Lobos 1707 team’s devotion to matters of diversity and representation. The “bigger table” metaphor runs throughout the brand — where true inclusivity has been a building block of the business from day one. Read more about that emphasis, the tequila itself, and being a woman of color in the spirits industry in my conversation with Simms featured below.
You were originally in the Department of Defense. How does someone go from that to the spirits industry? What was the draw?
It wasn’t all that intentional. I had planned to go to law school, originally. So I joined the Department of Defense to be part of what was their procurement program, where they would train you on negotiating and contracts. It was a perfect springboard before going to law school. The best part was I got legit, detailed learning on negotiating, which helps whether I’m arguing over a movie with my husband or negotiating a deal. At some point, frankly, it just was like… it was boring. I was talking to a friend and was like, “I’m completely bored. I want to be a little bit more challenged.” He recommended that I look at going into sales, which, at the time, I was like, “I don’t really want to force things on people. That’s not my thing.”
Long story short, I ended up going into advertising for radio sales, and then I really fell in love with marketing and building brands and launched a marketing company. That’s one of the first introductions for me, over 20 years ago. into spirits — where I started learning about how to build the story of spirits. How do you make sure there’s responsible consumption? It was also my understanding that there weren’t really a lot of women or diverse populations in the industry. Then I did pharma, advertising, and a bunch of other stuff until I came back to working for Combs Enterprises — where I was part of the building and growing this vodka brand from kind of obscurity to a $2 billion brand.
Now I’m just so grateful and thrilled to be CEO of Lobos 1707 Tequila & Mezcal.
Going back to when you were at Combs Enterprises. You were there for nearly 15 years. You also were the first president of the company. So what were some takeaways that you learned from working there? How do you feel like that role helped you grow in your career?
I think the number one takeaway is the importance of ownership. Sean Combs represents the best of the American dream and an understanding of the power of culture that when a brand has a respectful and requited relationship with a population and understands how to be protective of the integrity of artists and celebrate that and not just focus on the consumerism portion of it, you can really make magic together. You can have a successful brand that’s commercially successful, but in a way that still honors the artistry and honors the culture. It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.
And too, having a seat at the table. At Lobos, I’m literally here right now at the table that our founder, Diego, built. We always say, if there isn’t enough room, we build a bigger table. It’s part of what I love about being with Lobos 1707 and it’s definitely something I learned very deeply at Combs Enterprises.
There’s always room. The world’s abundant. We’ll just make more room.
Some of my pieces for Uproxx have been about not just inclusivity and representation but about being able to have a seat at the table. With that being said, what are some challenges you face as a woman of color in this industry? How have you overcome those challenges?
So, the challenge is a lack of representation and that’s not unique to the spirits industry. I’ve worked in defense, advertising, pharma, fashion, fragrance, and spirits. At a C-suite level, it’s all predominantly male. It just is what it is, which makes it a challenge if you are singularly representing an entire population. Frankly, I welcome the responsibility and I had a great conversation with a bunch of amazing women yesterday. One of the things we talked about was being the last firsts. It’s all wonderful now — I love celebrating the “first this” and the “first that” — but I can’t wait until there are no more firsts because it becomes commonplace and mundane when I walk into a room and just like women are 50 percent of the population, they’re 50 percent of the leadership suite.
The most challenging thing is how much time is wasted because of people’s conscious and unconscious biases. Some people can’t help themselves with whatever assumption that they have. It takes a full eight or nine minutes and they’ll want to be like, “Oh, wow! Damn, you really bring something to the table. This is a useful conversation.” Now we’ve just wasted all this time because of whatever your preconceived notions are. I’m just coming out to figure out how we can have a great time, have fun, and make some money together. If everybody opens their mind, it saves them time. It saves me time. We have a better relationship moving forward, and we can get to success faster.
There need to be more discussions about this and more action. I feel like the discussions are starting to happen, but there needs to be more action taken towards it. With Lobos 1707, how are you putting the talk into action?
People thought we were kind of crazy to be launching a brand new tequila brand in the middle of a pandemic. Before we even jumped into our sales forecast and our marketing plan, we spent like two months just thinking through who we are, who do we want to hire, and how we are going to represent the brand. So we felt like even from where we work, we have to be intentional about representing the brand because, first of all, consumers now see through the BS, right? Then, we were intentional about the kind of people we hired and who we hired. I’m proud to say, today we’re over 50 percent women and we’re over 60 percent ethnically diverse, and it’s on purpose.
I think the thing that’s most important to be said out loud is — it’s in its very early days — but we’re already showing great commercial success. So it’s not a favor or charitable point of view to say like, “Oh, that’s cool. Let’s be diverse. It’s Black History Month.” No, it’s actually just genuinely good for business. We’ll be the example to show what happens when you have true diversity, not just talk.
I love it! Also, rewinding back, how were you introduced to the opportunity to be the CEO of this company? What was the dialogue that happened before you took on the role?
I got to meet the founder and heard the phenomenal story. Of course, it was exciting that LeBron James was a major investor in it. And the story behind the founder whose family has actually been in this wine and spirits industry for centuries in Spain was something that was interesting to me like, “Okay, this isn’t some made-up brand story, right?” This is this man’s real family’s real legacy. When it’s your family and your name on the line, the level of integrity is just different.
For me, first and foremost, the most interesting thing was going to be what is the liquid? I need to taste it. We have a good formula. We know how to make a brand exciting and to drive them to a brand one time, but if you want somebody to come back twice, it needs to be outstanding and phenomenal. Our tequila and mezcal are a little different than others on the market, they all have a PX (Pedro Ximénez) and go through the process of being finished from an aged barrel. You can taste it in the viscosity and mouthfeel. It is noticeably different. When I tasted the liquor, I was like, “Oh, this is incredible.” Then, on top of that, to our earlier point, the people behind the brand are good, kind, and hardworking people. If you’re going to spend a lot of time at work and you look to your left and your right, you want to be around people that you honor, value, and respect.
What’s your go-to like? Do you drink tequila?
I do. I like a añejo and reposado. I like Blanco too, but I usually use that for cocktails.
We actually skipped straight from the repo to the extra añejo because our repo will stand up against somebody else’s añejo. Instead of a blanco, we start with a joven which is worth trying as well. They’re all terrific.
I can’t wait to try them! My last question pertains to women getting involved in spirits. What advice would you give to women who may not come from a spirits background but want to get a start in the industry?
Be audacious. It’s hard to change something from the outside. I have a very quick story about where my dad grew up. The police were like another gang. It was something to be feared. So growing up, he had a negative experience and history with the police. As he got older and had a chance, his friends were like, “The police are hiring. You should consider it” At that time, he said it was a difficult thing to reconcile because of his background; but he thought to himself, “Well, if I actually want to see a change, then I should become a part of it.” He ended up joining the New York Police Department. Then he ended up actually leading one of the very first task forces with internal affairs on how to train police officers to be respectful in Black and Brown neighborhoods. Now, obviously, there’s work to be done, but I know that he made a change during that time. It was just such a lesson to me that if you want to see something change, the best way is to be a part of it.
So, it’s a difficult industry where a lot of times it’s like, you have to have spirits experience to be in the spirits industry, and it’s like, “How do you get the initial experience?” Any time I can be of service; hit me up on Instagram. Shoot me a direct message. This is incredibly important to me to make sure that there is more representation in the industry. It’s a fun industry. There are some requirements in terms of technical expertise, but there’s no reason that we shouldn’t all have a seat at the table because it makes the industry better.