Having formed a diamond out of coal, Kareem “Biggs” Burke considers chemistry the most important factor of building a brand. That’s what the Harlem native credits as the secret to the success of Roc-A-Fella Records, the independent label he, Dame Dash, and Shawn “JAY-Z” Carter founded back in 1996. “Dame was the point guard, JAY was the forward, and I was the center,” the 44-year-old explains.

Burke is a businessman who never attended business school; a power-player who spent two decades training on the job. Most of what he learned about entrepreneurship came via personal relationships with fellow hustlers during his days as a party promoter in Harlem. But some of his lessons started even earlier than that. It was Burke’s older brother, Robert, who first inspired him to turn his hobbies into profit. It was a decision that ultimately helped him make the transition from the block to the boardroom.