Women in Business Q&A: Kimora Lee Simmons

Women in Business Q&A: Kimora Lee Simmons

Designer and entrepreneur Kimora Lee Simmons began her career as a top model and has since evolved into a fashion icon, brand visionary and media personality, having served as President and Creative Director of Baby Phat and JustFab and creating such award-winning TV shows as Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane." Currently, she serves as CEO and Creative Director of KLS Kimora Lee Simmons - a high-end designer fashion line - in addition to directing a portfolio of new innovative businesses in the fields of fashion, entertainment, technology and consumer goods including Codage - an advanced technical skin care line.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I have gone through several stages in my career - from model, to business woman, to owner and investor of business. I was one of the youngest models ever, when Karl Lagerfeld discovered me for Chanel. He had a profound influence on me as a person and many of my beliefs took shape in those years of being pushed to my limits to perform at the top of my game. I then transitioned into being a business woman and leader as President and Creative Director of Baby Phat and later JustFab and KLS Kimora Lee Simmons making these into very successful businesses in their own right. I intend to do the same for Celsius.

How has your previous experience aided your tenure as a designer and entrepreneur?

My career really began in Paris with an exclusive modeling contract with Chanel. Working with Karl Lagerfeld was a daily education in brand management and stewarding a vision from concept to execution. What I carried away from that experience and into my career is simple and powerful, good ideas are fragile. They have to be handled with great care and attention to detail. And that goes not only for design but for all facets of business in general.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure as an entrepreneur?

Today, I own my own business or invest in businesses where I add value as an owner, entrepreneur and role model. I have taken charge of my own destiny. We have invested over US$100 million in the last few years in several businesses ranging from my fashion line to luxury skin care, energy drinks, entertainment, sports and several technology businesses. It is an impressive portfolio of companies with immense platforms for global growth.

What advice can you offer to women who are looking to follow a similar route?

Throughout these different stages of my career several aspects have been consistently important to me: Whatever I do, I must have passion for it... Passion brings energy to what you do, it allows you to put your best effort forward, to work extremely hard and enjoy what you do.

Perfectionism... if you undertake something, follow your goals and dreams, creating a business or whatever it might be, you might as well do it right or not do it at all. I set the highest standards for myself and my team. I demand from myself the same as I demand from my team, and it better be the best we can be. It might sound harsh, and certainly my kids say so, but to be second place is not acceptable. Only when we dare to aim higher do we have a chance to reach the stars.

Give more than you take... I learned long ago that only if we give more than we take, will we reach true happiness and satisfaction as well as be rewarded for it. I have been lucky to have had many amazing mentors in my life who have given me so much, now it is time for me to give to those that I touch. In my team, it establishes loyalty that compensation cannot buy, in my family it brings a special bond to us, for those less fortunate it brings me incredible happiness. I have my own KLS Foundation that sponsors underprivileged designers to go to school and gives them the opportunity to pursue their dreams

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

Appreciate our good fortune... a big part of my happiness today comes from the fact that I appreciate my good fortune. I have been lucky to get to where I am today. I never forget to be grateful for the chances given to me. Of course, we make our own success by taking the chance presented to us and pursuing them, but I do believe that success is when "preparation meets opportunity", and I never forget those opportunities given to me. I have been lucky.

While I am pursuing my business dreams, I never forget my number one priority, which is my family. We are blessed with having 6 healthy, beautiful children between Tim and myself, Wolfe being the latest addition to our troop. The family is my lighthouse, it provides my guidance whether it is raining or the sun is shining. It grounds me and provides me with perspective. My children, my husband and the rest of the family give me the strength and confidence to pursue my many dreams. I am grateful for this gift. Of course, I also have an amazing support system at work. There are many demands on my time and it is a constant juggling of priorities. I always encourage other moms to find the right balance. Everyone's circumstances are different, but with the right partner and backing from the family, your dreams can become reality. I make it one of my missions to help other moms and provide them with the opportunities that I have been granted, whether it is by bringing them onto my team or funding them, whether it is through my philanthropic work or as a venture capital investor.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

My mom brought me up as a single mom. She had to work extremely hard to allow me pursue my goals. She never asked for anything in return. Her unconditional love and giving nature will be within me forever. It reminds me that we must always support our next generation as they are our future.

What do you want to personally and professionally accomplish in the next year?

My family is celebrating the birth of my son, Wolfe Lee Leissner, so it's a joyous time for us. We're commited to giving him a healthy and happy first year and welcoming him to the family. My oldest son Kenzo continues to grow and explore the world and every day is an adventure for him and us. My two daughters - Ming Lee and Aoki Lee - continue to astound me with their wit and perception. They've been gravitating towards civic causes and involvement as well as pursuing their academics with great gusto! They won't stop growing and are wearing my shoes and handbags at every opportunity.

Professionally, the next year will see me continue to build my KLS Kimora Lee Simmons designer line. We've hired a great new President who will help us develop retail and wholesale strategy with a new store opening in Los Angeles. I have also started to invest my capital in businesses for which I have a lot of passion and where I feel I can add value with my own ideas and connections or those of my husband, Tim. I founded our own investment vehicle that I run as a proper venture capital fund - Cuscaden Capital Limited. The portfolio includes beauty, tech, sports and entertainment and I'm excited to be running this portfolio as a proper strategically and financially oriented venture capital business.

The latest investment that we undertook, was taking a stake together with our friends from Horizon Ventures from Hong Kong in Celsius, the Energy and Fitness Drink company. The opportunities in Celsius are huge. Not only can we drive the expansion in the domestic US market, but together with Horizon, we will expand aggressively on a global basis. I feel so strongly about Celsius given the superior functionality of the drink and its great taste. I am a true Celsient... and I can contribute my network of relationships in Asia, Europe and other parts of the world, to open many new markets for Celsius. To me, the upside feels almost unlimited. Within a few days of announcing our investment, we had reached over 300 million impressions on social media with all our friends being excited about the drink and it's potential. My partners and I fully intend to make Celsius my next billion dollar brand.


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