Changing Your Mind is Your Prerogative and Can Lead to Success
See how Simone Ross became a strong leader and learned from changing her mind and following her heart
As the song goes, “It’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind.” Had Simone Ross not changed her mind at several critical junctures, she might not be the leader she is today: the president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce and one of Colorado’s most passionate advocates for advancing women in the workplace.
A Denver native, Ross grew up in a single-parent household where finances were tight. She knew from an early age that she wanted to be the first in her family to receive a college education and land a job that paid well. So, after graduating from East High School, she enrolled at Colorado State University with the intention of majoring in business. And that’s where she first changed her mind.
“I talked myself out of being a business major because I was too bad at math and felt I’d never be able to hang in the business world. What a completely false narrative that turned out to be!”
As time would tell, business was indeed her calling. It just had to be the right business.
Ross said she doesn’t regret switching majors from business to technical journalism—“I’m glad I have that skill set even though I’ve never used journalism, except for writing blogs”—but adds that business seemed to be her best option following her graduation from CSU. “My first job was being a free and casualty underwriter for State Farm. It was interesting in that it gave me my first taste of corporate structures, but it was complete and total torture because it didn’t fit my personality type. I wanted to be out and about with people, not sitting behind a desk.”
She returned to CSU, earned a master’s degree in English and spent the next four years teaching high school English and GED classes at Urban Peak. From there, she joined Cigna and discovered she had a passion for helping companies develop health care programs that were good for the company and employees alike.
Ross did so well at Cigna that a healthcare startup in King of Prussia, Pa., recruited her to be its vice president of business development, a job she held until the economy tanked and the business folded.
“That was very hard for me because I’d experienced such success. But it also made me say, ‘Whoa, maybe my definition of success isn’t tied to title or salary, but what impact I can make on the world.’ I took a step back and asked myself what about work makes me happy and what I want to be remembered for. The answer was advocating for people who are voiceless, giving back to the community, and being a decision maker who drives change.”
So she packed up and returned to Denver to serve as volunteer coordinator for the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Then, over the course of the next decade, Ross landed—and sometimes created— high-level business development positions with Kaiser Permanente Colorado, Delta Dental and SCL Health. “Here I was, a young Black woman who had faced so many barriers and challenges, in a space where we could call out those challenges and create a sense of belonging in spaces where we didn’t feel like we belonged. I realized I had every right to achieve and succeed in a C-suite role.”
More changes came in 2018 when her job at SCL Health was eliminated. “It was beyond tough,” she says of the job loss. “It was awful, but I had to ask who I was. The title of wife wasn’t suiting me, so I walked away from my marriage to become a single mom. It was a heart-wrenching and very tough decision because I lost my home, had no income and little savings. It was very scary, but it was something I had to do for myself and my kids and my community.”
She established a creative operations consultancy and in very short order helped develop The Riveter, a co-working space for marginalized women in the business world. It was successful until the COVID-19 pandemic struck and The Riveter shut down.
Fortunately for Ross, the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce had been a partner of The Riveter, and when that organization found itself in need of a fractional chief executive officer—someone to perform specific leadership tasks for a fixed amount of time—she was offered the job and accepted.
She became the chamber’s president and CEO in December 2021, when Kristen Blessman, who had held the job since 2017, moved on to become president and general manager of PBS12.
Leanna Clark chaired the chamber board when Ross interviewed for the president/CEO position and recalls how “Simone stood out with her experience as an entrepreneur and in the corporate realm with her ability to advocate for women in the workforce. She has gone above and beyond our wildest dreams; has grown membership, revamped and refreshed programming and established the CWCC as the voice for women in business in Colorado.”
We had some questions for Ross.
How do people describe you?
Hopefully as a catalyst—someone who challenges the status quo and adds value, a different perspective and insights to whatever is being discussed.
How would you like to be remembered?
As a loving mother who would do anything in the world for her children.
Who do you most admire, and why?
My grandparents. I would not be who I am today had they not invested in me in such meaningful and special ways.
What is a fun fact about yourself that others might find surprising?
I’m a retired rapper! And I sang backup vocals for a variety of artists, although I wasn’t always sure where my recorded vocals were going.
What is the one thing you cannot live without?
Having a spiritual connection. It keeps me grounded, sharp and intuitive.
What was your last major purchase?
I am big on my kids having unique and immersive experiences, so we’re going to Mexico City for a few weeks and immerse ourselves in a culture that is new to us. And it ain’t cheap!
What is the last book you read?
I’m in the middle of three right now: My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, by Resmaa Menakem; Manifest Now, by Idil Ahmed; and Tools of Titans, by Tim Ferriss.
What do you enjoy most about living in Colorado?
The way we are able to work together. We have such an amazing community of people that you can’t find anywhere else.
When it comes to relaxation, nothing beats …
Being by the ocean.
What is your favorite Denver restaurant, and is there a dish you always order there?
I am a real foodie—and a really good cook. But for going out, my favorites are Guard & Grace for a good steak and Super Mega Bien. I just sit there and gorge.
Are you involved with any Denver-area nonprofits?
I’m on the board of Girls, Inc., and the Colorado Enterprise Fund. I also belong to Jack & Jill of America and am a proud, 22-year member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
Children: Gavin, 13, and Zoe, 8
Job title: President/CEO, Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the Colorado Women’s Chamber Foundation. She also is an auctioneer, both as an independent contractor and as a member of The Gala
Team Education: Degrees in technical journalism and English and an MBA, all from Colorado State University
Joanne Davidson has known Simone Ross for a decade or more, but it wasn’t until she conducted this interview that she discovered that Ross once was a rapper!