Bossing It: Jamie Simms on Why Transparency Is Key
Jamie Simms is a managing director who joined David&Goliath in 2013, currently leading all Frito-Lay accounts including Stacy’s, Snacks.com and the PepsiCo Foundation Food for Good. Over the course of 8 years, Jamie also served as business lead for Universal Parks & Resorts, Chicken of the Sea International, CTCA and NYNY Hotel & Casino while at D&G. Her 18+ year advertising career spans across multiple categories and brands including Diageo, Capital One Bank, Colorado Tourism, Heineken, Blue Moon, Wendy’s, Dairy Queen and Embassy Suites Hotels, as well as pro bono work for The Prostate Cancer Foundation and D&G’s nonprofit, Today, I’m Brave. Jamie began her career in Kansas City and worked for Publicis, Grey and kbs in New York as well as The Integer Group in Denver. Through all of the cross-country moves, Jamie couldn’t be happier to call Los Angeles - and David&Goliath - home.
LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?
Jamie> I was fortunate to have a family that supported me to be involved in everything as a kid and into high school – student government, basketball/softball/tennis, choir/theater, school fundraising, homecoming event planning, multiple summer jobs on top of summer school… the list keeps going. I believe taking on all those extra activities and responsibilities helped prepare me for my career in advertising at an early age.
When it comes down to it, I don’t believe leadership is a result of your title or years of experience; rather it’s how you show up. Being your honest self, working hard, keeping a level head and always throwing in a little bit of laughter all go a long way in leading the charge and driving things forward.
LBB> How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?
Jamie> I’m a middle child from the Midwest – for as long as I can remember I’ve simply wanted everyone to get along. That’s not to say you can always please everyone when leading a team or a project, but letting people come to the table, hearing different opinions, being open to new ways, being transparent, building off each other’s strengths and recognising your limitations both personally and collectively – these are all things I try to do every single day.
LBB> What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?
Jamie> Maybe not the biggest lesson, but there is a memorable one that I try to instil in my team to this day: When I was just starting out, a boss once told me that to succeed in our business you have to have a sense of humour. At the time, I found this to be such an odd thing for her to say. I was young; I thought jobs always had to be serious business, right? But she was SO right. What we do is so fast-paced and constantly evolving. And we spend so much time with each other (even via Teams during Covid). We have to be able to roll with the punches, shake things off, quickly adapt, and work together on new plans or approaches when needed, all while making sure you’re having some fun along the way. Otherwise, you will be miserable. Plus, sometimes that new path forward ends up being even better than the original plan.
LBB> Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realising that you had it in you?
Jamie> I think a part of me always did – otherwise I wouldn’t have taken on so many things at an early age. As I started my career, I absorbed everything and everyone around me and really tried to lean into my strengths of what makes me uniquely me.
LBB> When it comes to 'leadership' as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?
Jamie> I think it’s a beautiful mixture of both. Some natural part of your personality has to bring you to a leadership-type profession. Other leadership skills are definitely taught and strengthened, especially as you meet other leaders as you move along in your career. I’m naturally more of an introvert than an extrovert so I am constantly having to get out of my comfort zone from that standpoint, which can be very rewarding but it’s also something I’ve had to hone along the way.
LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?
Jamie> When I see my team is struggling with something my initial response is to jump in and try to “fix” it. But that won’t help them learn, grow, or even give them the space to solve it better than I could have. It can be tricky, but it’s important to find that right balance of not stepping on my teams’ toes and letting situations work themselves out while also recognising when I truly do need to step in before things get too sticky.
LBB> Have you ever felt like you've failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?
Jamie> Yes, of course. Whether it’s a team member putting in their notice or not being able to get an amazing idea sold through to the client – I often internalize these as failures in my leadership. When this happens, I have an honest playback with myself for how that situation was handled to determine if there was anything I could have done differently to yield a different outcome.
LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?
Jamie> Transparency – hands down. I don’t really know how to operate otherwise. That’s not to say there isn’t value in other ways, it’s just the only approach that’s most authentic to me.
LBB> As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor, if so who were/are they and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?
Jamie> I was very fortunate to have two very strong yet stylistically different female supervisors very early in my career in Carrie Brzon and Alexis (Pope) Porter. Their management styles and approach to leadership were different, however they shared a core belief that in order to lead you have to always be yourself. And they were authentically themselves 100% of the time. Embrace your strengths, surround yourself with the right people in the room to build on your areas of weakness, and forge ahead together. The two of them may not know they left this impression on the 22- and 24-year-old me, but they really helped shape me into who I am professionally. Thank you!
I’d like to think I have left similar impressions on current and previous team members throughout the years. I have an open-door policy where I ask team members to come to me for advice about anything from workload to long-term growth trajectory or anything else that’s on their minds. I don’t always have a solution right then and there, but I’ll work through it with them. This is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. I’ve kept in touch with many former team members helping answer career questions, being a new job reference for them, or simply being there as a friend. I love seeing them grow and take on new roles, challenges, and whole new careers in some cases.
LBB> It's been a really challenging time - and that's an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?
Jamie> This all goes back to transparency and giving people space. There was no playbook for all the challenges that came up this past year. It was all new, both professionally and personally. I tried to be as open with my team as possible, encourage them to voice their fears and concerns and give them as much space and support as they needed. I was fortunate to work at an agency that encouraged this and did the same for me as well.
LBB> How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with staff working remotely in 2020?
Jamie> Our culture at D&G is everything. We don’t just say what we believe in, we live it in everything we do. While we haven’t been physically together this past year+, the agency stepped up our culture initiatives even more to ensure we all still felt their impact. Between creating our Braver Together Culture Team to our newly appointed director of empathy, Tiffany Persons, designing multiple Aligned Workshops for all employees to sit with differing world views through active listening and compassion to simply how our C-suite handled transparent communications throughout this challenging year, our culture shined through in spades.
LBB> What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?
Jamie> Surrounding myself with brilliant, driven people. I especially pay attention to those who think or approach things differently than I would, as I always learn so much from them.