At a time where more and more women are filling the seats in business, politics, and sports but still pushing back against glass ceilings and gender-based underestimation, Renata Simril has commanded her position at the intersection of historically male-dominated industries in both the public and private sectors with an undeniable presence and an unquestionable pedigree. How? By digging into all aspects of each job at hand, working on any perceived weakness and ensuring she can carry her own weight from the boardroom to the battlefield.
Standing at 5’ 5”, Simril’s bold spirit far exceeds her stature. While stationed in Germany as an M60 gunner preparing for war games, she ran three miles to the gym to work out for two hours just to run the three miles back – outside of her combat PT. When she transitioned from civic service to real estate in finance, she learned what it took to manage multi-million dollar development projects such as The Mercury, 1100 Wilshire, and Met Lofts. While serving as the SVP of External Affairs at the Dodgers, she made sure to study everything she needed to (and didn’t already) know about baseball. Now, as President & CEO of the LA84 Foundation, steward to the legacy of the 1984 Olympic games, a lauded public speaker and a leader at the forefront of a new generation of Los Angeles game-changers Casey Wasserman, and previous CSQ Visionaries of the Year Mayor Eric Garcetti and Troy Carter. Simril’s success could very well be attributed to her bullish desire to deserve her spot at any table she sits at: “I chose this,” she says of her various roles adding, “Which means I have to do what it takes to succeed.”
Moving Out to Move Up
As the daughter of a butcher and a grocery store clerk, Renata Simril felt a brazen desire to blaze a different path for herself in life, and sport gave her the spark to do so. “I was an awkward, shy, nerdy kid in middle school,” says Simril. “It was sport that gave me the opportunity to feel like I belonged somewhere. I was good. Sport was one area where it didn’t matter that I was a tomboy, because, if I had the skills I could help my team win.”
After her dream of competing in tennis at the 1988 Olympic games was dashed by the financial demand that particular sport carries with it, Simril’s formal athletic career ended in high school. She knew the next step ahead pointed toward college – an answer she didn’t conclude until after everyone else’s acceptance letters began arriving at the tail end of her senior year of high school. She hadn’t applied anywhere, and she didn’t have any money to spare for tuition. When an Army recruiter stopped her on campus before graduation to explain that the military could pay for a university education and allow her to travel, she dove headlong into the start of her multidimensional professional journey. As she reflects back on the timeline and trajectory of her career, she finds that the through-line at the heart of every job decision has been leadership, service, civic engagement, and the city of Los Angeles.
“My career may not seem to make sense on paper, and it certainly spans a variety of industries,” says Simril, who transitioned from being an Army MP to development deputy for Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, to LA’s Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, to a real estate developer, to a young leader within the Dodgers organization, to Chief of Staff of the Publisher of The Los Angeles Times before settling into her current role at the LA84 Foundation. “I have just been fortunate in terms of the opportunities I’ve been given,” she humbly adds. “Part of that is being prepared to seize those opportunities, and not being fearful of moving out to move up.”
She quickly found that the formula for excellence in any of those positions was a hell of a lot of hard work, physical preparedness, emotional intelligence and a tireless effort to improve. She knew that she needed to become competitive and capable in any environment and every industry she entered into.
Ultimately, Renata Simril says, the journey toward success is about understanding who you are, identifying your strengths and weaknesses, deciding where you want to be and leaving fear at the door to get started. “I’ll see where I want to go, and then I’ll chart a path to get there,” Simril says and adds, “That path may not always be a straight line.”
Carrying the Torch
In 1984, Peter Ueberroth managed the highly successful (and first ever privately financed) Olympic games in Los Angeles that yielded a surplus of just over $232M. Early organizers were very intentional, and committed that 40% of any surplus would be maintained to fund future youth sports in Southern California. “It was a legacy they wanted to leave to Los Angeles for the next generation,” she says.
In stepping into that legacy, however, she was very well aware of the crisis we face and the gaps that still permeate the socioeconomic, educational, and sport spectrums, especially in LA. Renata Simril recently was invited to give a main stage address at the Social Innovation Summit, held this year in Chicago. The theme of her very well-received speech, which blended research and hard data with moving stories of children and their families? “P.E. is a social justice issue.”
“If we can get more girls involved in sport early on, maybe we can see more women in business and positions of power — in the C-Suite running companies and on directorial boards.”
The LA84 Foundation has been quite successful in changing the lives of the city’s youth and fostering the talent of world class athletes. For the past 32 years, LA84 has funded school- and community-based programs covering 50 sports and 2,200 organizations, reaching over three million children through grant funding. Amongst some of the more recognizable participants to have come through the LA84 youth sports and mentorship programs are Venus and Serena Williams, Russell Westbrook, Rusty Smith and Caylin Moore – a personal inspiration of Renata Simril’s and once-homeless young man from the City of Carson, where Renata Simril grew up, whose sport-driven spirit propelled him down the path of becoming a Rhodes Scholar. “Our goal is to change lives through the transformative power of sport. At our core, we are really a youth development organiation. Sport is our hook,” says Simril. “We try to help children build the confidence and life skills to help them see over their circumstances in a way that allows them to be successful and realize their dreams. [The program] keeps them active and harnesses their energy. It lets them know somebody actually gives a damn about them. We believe that the dreams of one youth should not be determined by their zip code.”
A treasure of and for Los Angeles, the LA84 Foundation is headquartered in a landmark 100-year old West Adams estate and maintains one of the largest sport heritage and Olympic memorabilia collections in the world. “We have over 120,000 volumes of books, journals and articles, countless original posters and nearly every single torch from Winter and Summer Olympic Games,” Renata Simril muses with visible pride, scanning the adorned room. “This is truly the house that the Olympics built.”
A Renewed Love for Her Hometown
Another legacy that Renata Simril owns is that of the native Angeleno. Several generations of her family were born, bred and blossomed throughout the city. Despite her travels across America and abroad, she’s always found her way back to Los Angeles, and every role she’s taken on here has played a pivotal part in restoring, elevating and advancing the city’s brand, infrastructure and impact. I asked her why she chose to plant her own personal flag in LA, to which she paused, smiled and thoughtfully borrowed a phrase from Mayor Garcetti: “LA is the world in one city.”
Composed of an intricate variation of approximately 27 cultures (most of which are the largest concentration of that ethnic group outside their home country), Los Angeles has become the concentrated epicenter and melting pot of the modern world. In one hour, depending on traffic, a local can travel from the beach to a mountain top, from Koreatown to the rainbowed streets of West Hollywood, and cross every sort of socioeconomic background along the way. Simril has found that, of all the places she’s seen, LA is the embodiment of balance, aspiration and opportunity.
But it has been her work lately that has really made her fall in love with the city in a new way. As a board member for the 2024 Olympic committee, she has watched how this new generation of Olympic stewards is re-framing the story of Los Angeles. “They’re preserving the legacy, but really looking toward the future. They’re harnessing our technology, creativity, and diversity,” she says. “And highlighting how everybody’s welcome here.” She adds: “This love affair with LA has reignited my own love for the place I grew up in.”
“Our goal is to change lives through the transformative power of sport. At our core, we are really a youth development organization. Sport is our hook.”
Her Legacy of Leadership and Service
Growing up, her grandmother always told her that “service is the price you pay for the space you occupy,” and Renata Simril has forever owned that mantra while operating on a “double bottom line” – doing good while doing well, and leaving a place a bit better than she found it.
And while her work life has become deeply embedded into the Olympic legacy, the spirit and ideology of the Olympics have been alive and thriving within her since childhood. “If I could do it all over again, my dream would have been to be an Olympian.” The mantra for her MP unit in Germany – “A cut above the rest” – even echoes the Olympic motto, “Citius, Altius, Fortius: Faster, Higher, Stronger.” She has never accepted anything less than the best from herself, and she has only ever strived for excellence in everything she has done. Which is, perhaps, why her current role looks like the tailor-made culmination of all her previous endeavors at the highest level.
“I’m too young to culminate!” Simril emphatically declares, with a chuckle. “But I do see this as the pinnacle of all the things I’m passionate about, and as a convergence of my diverse career. My ‘why’ is simple – I get to talk about sports, preserve the Olympic values and drive impact / change in the communities that need it most,” she says. “I couldn’t think of anything else I would rather be doing.”
And, sitting across from her on a warm April afternoon in “the house the Olympics built,” we’d agree. Renata Simril is and always has been an unstoppable force for this city – the leader of a cornerstone legacy of Los Angeles. With the prospect of this city hosting a third Olympic Games, her work is just beginning.