Candice Cook Simmons, who recently took on the position of Chief Strategy Officer for Candarah Media, is an exceptional business attorney.
With expertise across diverse industries, she leads in business, legal, and strategic innovation. As founder of The Cook Law Group, Candice is one of NYC's top attorneys, earning features in publications and press like Forbes, Essence, Elle, Google & so much more. Recognized in The National Black Lawyers Top 100 and honored as an Influential Woman by the YWCA, Candice's remarkable achievements are highlighted by receiving prestigious awards. We had the opportunity to sit down with her and gain insights into what it truly means to be an inspiring leader in the field of law.
Could you tell us a bit about your background and career journey?
I started my career as a litigator. I went to law school, and upon graduating, I worked in Texas, and then transitioned to the New York office. During that time, it really was a function of learning. So, if you're in litigation, you're doing the same things at the same time, regardless of what firm you go to. Typically you're doing document review, as a first-year attorney. I certainly did my share of document review. Then, I ended up being assigned cases and was able to get cases because I also had people from my own relationships, who wanted to work with me. And these weren't minor cases. These were individuals who were at the top of their game. After some time, I wanted to expand the scope of my experience.
I left and took a business development opportunity from an organization pre-Uber that was really looking at scaling taxis globally. I worked there for some time. I also wanted to understand business better, so I did a program at Stanford through their business school. I wanted to understand and really get familiar with P&L. So [before going to Stanford] what I realized was that I did not want to do litigation. I wanted to practice law and do transactional instead, and I really liked the idea of being a founder. I thought that the traditional methodology of practicing law was outdated. I thought that there's got to be a better way for us to do this. So I started the firm to solve those issues to essentially say, we're going to do it differently—we weren't so arrogant as to say we're going to do it better, just differently. But for our clients, it turned out that the way we did it worked out better for them.
Could you share more about your transition from a successful law practice to becoming the Chief Strategy Officer at RadicalMedia and what you are working on now? What motivated you to make this career move?
I had clients that were in the space already, and when you're really great at strategy, then you're able to apply that to a variety of different verticals. We had clients who were talented executives, I have clients who are production studios, who are Oscar-nominated for a variety of different roles, and who were really leading in their space. So it was natural as I was already in the world. It wasn't a new scenario, but it was more like, let's go deep here, and let's apply that here. And so that's really how the transition occurred.
As someone who has successfully transitioned between different industries and roles, what tips can you offer to young professionals looking to pivot in their careers?
Developing whatever the skill set is, is critically important. And I think pivots and transitions happen, whether they are planned or not. The idea is that safety is a false narrative. There is no such thing as “safe”. There is only such a thing as smart and everyone's individual circumstance is going to dictate what is smart for them. If they are helping finance their families, if they are helping a sibling, if they know that their responsibilities extend beyond themselves, then safe will look very different. And so the idea of when to pivot is predicated on pivoting to what and for what. But you should know it's going to happen at some point, period. There are no exceptions. There is no such thing as avoiding a change and a transition. It is just a cornerstone and a part of what's going to happen on a professional trajectory. So, the best preparation is to know that you keep going regardless of what that pivot or transition is.
How can young professionals balance specialization while staying informed about broader industry trends in their career?
It depends on what career path they actually want to do. If you are studying in a scientific space and you're studying disease, I want you to go really deep into that disease. If you are a tax specialist, I want you to go really deep in tax and so on. Every employer needs someone who has subject matter expertise in something. That's important universally. So subject matter expertise is important. But also, if you limit yourself to your expertise, it's like a scientist who doesn't read literature. What makes you dynamic normally does not mean shutting off the valve of the other things that drive interest. If you allow yourself to absorb all of those things, It's not a choice—either going deep [in your expertise] or wide [across the industry]. It's picking when you go deep and when you go wide. It is looking at the entire worldview and being able to say, this is what's affecting us in this particular industry.
If you could distill your career advice into a few key principles, what would they be? What guiding principles have helped you navigate your career journey?
The first would be, to be honest with yourself. Be honest with other people. Honor yourself, honor other people. Then I would dispel the myth of safety. We don't get out of life without obstacles. And so when you're honest with yourself, it gives you a head start of moving towards the thing that will truly make you happy. Moving forward with your truth is just the best thing any person can do. And do not live with this idea that people will be proud of me if I do X. The reality is people who love you are proud of you because you exist. You will do certain things that make them a little extra proud and that gives them bragging rights and moments.
Can you share some strategies for networking effectively and building meaningful professional relationships, especially for those just starting their careers?
I'm a firm believer that you network horizontally. Don't focus so much on networking vertically, meaning people love to network up. And that does serve a purpose to a certain extent. But historically networking horizontally and understanding people who are your peer group is critically important because you're going to be rising together. Those are the people who are going to hear about positions that are appropriate for you. And also do not always seek individuals for the sake of them helping you but create really authentic relationships with your core group.
People spend so much time trying to fit into whatever box they think they should be in but the reality is your best self—the self that makes you like your highest version of yourself, comes out when you're around people who draw out your highest version of yourself. And the more you're in their company, the more you shine. So go where you can shine, authentically. Not shining to outshine someone else but shining because you're celebrated there. And then also pay attention to nurturing those relationships in a deep and substantive way.
Many young professionals may face challenges and setbacks in their careers leading to questioning themselves. How do you recommend they approach and overcome these obstacles?
Sometimes, we get stuck in optics over outcomes. For example, people loving graduate school is one of those examples. Graduate school is something that people spend a lot of money to do because it feels like a safe choice. And the reality is, it can be if that's what you want to do. But it is also a crutch used by a lot of individuals to buy them time while they figure their career out or worse—to give them something to present to others that they feel is the safe representation. I understand you need to support your family and do all of the things that you need to do to survive and hopefully thrive, but you have to find a way to balance that and to balance it with intention, purpose and practice.
I think that that's where people get lost because they think they have to sacrifice one for the other. That’s not true. It is difficult to follow your dream and do other things right. It is hard to balance all of those things. But again, if people are looking for the easy way out, then they can, but they need to own up to it. But if you are going to say I want to be the exception and I want to make the rules, then you have to recognize that, that takes guts and everyone isn't made and everyone doesn't have the constitution to do that. And if you're that outlier, you have to do it without everybody understanding.
What are three books or podcasts you would recommend, and why?
The first book, I would say, is Leap Frog by Natalie Molina Nino. She talks about how she's focused on outcomes over optics. The reason I recommend Leap Frog is because she did this story, from a daughter of an immigrant's perspective, where she talked about the things that we feed people—lies of what it takes to have success. These are the steps everyone takes. And if you don't do these steps, then you're going to miss the boat and the premise is you need to leapfrog over some of the stuff that we've been trained to believe in.
And then in terms of podcasts, I really am enjoying Kara Swisher right now. So I'm going down the Kara Swisher wormhole. She's got several podcasts. I can say the one that I found incredibly striking was the most recent interview with Sheila Johnson. I found that to be fascinating because she owns several hotels. She owns sports teams. She was the co-founder of BT and her premise is really not allowing yourself to be airbrushed out of history.
So, Kara Swisher is great, and then there’s Rachel Maddow. I appreciate her attention to detail and it translates really well regardless of someone's politics. It translates really well into how we should go about understanding the world through our own lens and get stuck in our own perspectives.
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