BOSSWATCH Presents: From CEO to Real Housewives of Dallas, see what makes D’Andra Simmons a REAL boss.
Hi! Let’s start with some quick stats – who are you, what do you do and where?
My whole story starts with my mother who is a cancer survivor. In 1996, she decided to start a nutrition company, so Ultimate Living International was born with one product, Green Miracle – which is still our best selling product. It’s a green powder that gives you all your fruits, vegetables and antioxidants that you need in a day, so it’s perfect for anyone who doesn’t like to eat fruits and vegetables! About 2 years later, Dee Simmons Skincare was born. I was always by my mother’s side even– though I was living in New York, LA, DC and different places– helping her.
Throughout, she always wanted me to come back and work for her, so I did 3 times and of course each time I left. It’s hard in a family business when you have two strong willed women with strong personalities and opinions that have very different ideas about how to do business and move it along. My mother and I have some very similar skill sets, but also some very different skills. I have enormous respect for her because she only went to high school, never went to college, has no formal education and was able to run two multi million dollar companies that she started all on her own, that in itself is incredible! I, on the other hand, went to college and got an education because that was very important to her. It was important to me too because I was a bookworm and nerd and most people don’t realize that.
In 2008, I started Hard Night, Good Morning after moving back home in 2004 when my mother was supposed to retire (if you’re a Real Housewives of Dallas watcher you know she didn’t end up retiring until 2018.) So, I knew she was not really wanting to let this go and that spurred me to start my own company. Think about 2008, the bottom was falling out of the economy, the mortgage crisis, all of these things were happening, so my brand that I was so excited about launched in the middle of it all. We were so excited, had our launch party, then nothing happened despite having all these meetings with Neiman Marcus and these different department stores that were all cancelled because they weren’t taking any new brands on. So, you’ve launched a new brand and it’s hard to pick the pieces back up and move on because once it’s new it’s new. You can’t go back to the buzz. I had to wait about 2 years until Whole Foods came to me and asked me to compete with another one of their brands. So, I went with it!
Recently, we’ve rebranded and reinvented the brand, but it’s taken me a long time to “pick myself up by my bootstraps” as my father would say and move on because it cost me a lot of money, not one time, but 3-4 times.
One thing I learned is that, it’s not just one shot or if I fail I can’t do it again or have the same brand. Living in Texas, we’re wildcatter central. Think about people like T. Boone Pickens, how many times did he go bankrupt then became a millionaire overnight? You look at all these stories and see that the average entrepreneur fails about 36-39 times in every business until they’ve made it. I’m past 30, so I think it’s time for me to be successful! But, I think it’s true because if you don’t know what failing feels like, then how can you be so grateful to be successful?
Quick Professional Tidbit: Always communicate how much you appreciate your employees and praise them when they do a good job. It will foster great employee loyalty in feast or famine, the lean times and the great times.
Let’s dig into your persona!
Three adjectives you would use to describe you.
- Direct – Everyone thinks I’m so direct, but I’ve also got a tender, empathetic heart.
- A Leader/Visionary
- Empathetic and Appreciative – to me is important for people to feel loved and appreciated. I want them to come to me for anything.
What kind of music do you listen to/what’s currently on your playlist?
Weird stuff! Like Morning Raga – which makes me nostalgic for my time in India. Icaros from South America from Sacred Valley Tribe, Meditations by Kelly Howell, Luis Miguel, Barry Manilow, Lizzo, Classical Music, Opera and Tim McGraw!
What is important to you (values-wise)?
Integrity and honesty. I would rather tell an inconvenient truth about something than lie to cover it up only to make it worse later. If I make mistakes I admit them and move on. No one is perfect and we all make bad decisions sometimes.
It’s 9pm on a Tuesday night, what are you up to?
Probably eating dinner! We eat late because we don’t come home from the office until after 7PM normally, and I cook so it isn’t ready until that time.
What is your ‘why?’ (Your reason for everything you do!)
To make my life count. To leave a legacy and leave this world a better place than before I entered into it; and to find my purpose here, so I can have my life be of the greatest benefit to the planet.
Where do you go to get inspired?
I READ. I read about other successful people and what they did differently and why they succeeded and how. I also listen to classical music when I am working at home or writing and it seems to give me inspiration.
Let’s talk about breaking out of the boxes society places us in. ?
Describe an experience where you had to “live outside the box” professionally.
Even though I saw the writing on the wall, I thought, I’m not going to fail and I’ll figure it out. I’ll sit on Rubik’s cube all day long until I figure it out. So, when my brand wasn’t taking off and I had my mother’s brands as the focus of the business, in 2016, I finally decided (after thinking about it for TWO years) to join the cast of Bravo’s Real Housewives of Dallas. They had come to me before season 1 and asked me to join the show when they were putting the original cast together, but I didn’t join because at the time I was really focused on my fundraising in Dallas and being a philanthropist and volunteer.
I did all of that because when I did start my company and had the issues I was having, I still wasn’t part of my mother’s company and I didn’t feel heard or like I was able to make my own decisions. So, I went to where I knew I would be admired and praised for my work and get the feedback I needed. At the same time, what I didn’t realize was that I was building a wonderful wealth of business information because I was fundraising. I was meeting with corporations and men who were leading these corporations, so I had to talk the language, find out how to ask and how to be compelling. Fundraising really taught me about working in business because of the skills I had to pick up.
What was your first professional cliff jump? (and some deets) ⛰️
When I came back to the brand, it was really hard. I had to sit down with my husband and my mother and say I really want this business to grow. I had a feeling that going on a reality TV show would help it, but there are going to be a lot of pitfalls too. I wrestled and wrestled with it and had lots of sleepless nights. So, my husband and I decided, we were going to do it, but never take the focus off the golden ring – what is the end result? What is your purpose of doing this? I always tell people, if you’re on Reality TV for fame, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. But, if you stay focused on what your mission, vision and passion is for your own life, then whatever else happens its water off a duck’s back. This was a pivotal moment in my career because I wanted to do something really big and make a huge impact with the business, with my skill set and with the TV show I could make a footprint not just in Dallas, but all over the world. That was my calling and no matter what everyone else thought, I stayed focused and took the plunge!
Imagine your “Top 8,” partly referencing MySpace, but i’m also talking about imaginary friends that help you stay bold and motivated. Imaginary friends are bosses you admire most in your life, whether you know them personally or not. So who do you look up to on the daily:
- Rose Marie Bravo – She was the CEO of Burberry and prior to that CEO/President of Saks Fifth Avenue and I was her personal assistant for a time in my twenties.
- Sara Blakely – She took cutting off your pantyhose to make your skin look smoother under clothes to a whole new level (I was doing this in my twenties). I admire her ingenuity and drive. She has built a billion dollar empire with a pair of scissors, spandex and a dream. SPANX was born and women can eat and breathe again.
- Arianna Huffington – after selling The Huffington Post, she realized that there is much more to life than making money and Thrive is the result of this realization. She shows us how to achieve balance in our lives while still maintaining a successful career. I heard her speak on this new endeavor a few years ago and was captivated by her story.
- Oprah Winfrey – She created a media empire from sheer determination after horrific childhood and overcoming many obstacles. She did not let her past define her future success.
- Frances Berwick – President Lifestyle Networks, NBC Universal – My boss and a powerhouse in entertainment. She really ushered in Reality TV to make it what it is today, a pop-culture phenomenon. She developed shows such as “Top Chef” and “Queer Eye” and “The Real Housewives”, plus she led BRAVO to be the number one cable network among other top achievements. She oversees many other cable networks in the NBC family as well.
If you can be remembered with one quote about the professional world, what would it be?
It’s okay to cry in business. Last year, I had to let an employee go and it was the hardest thing I’ve had to do and it broke my heart. I told her I’d bring her back as soon as I could and now she’s back!
Bravo has given me a couple of really good things, like you can cry and it’s okay. I used to be a really strong person that didn’t cry, didn’t show emotions and even though people still think that about me I have shown my emotions more than I ever have in my life and I’m very thankful for that.
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