In hip hop hierarchy, it doesn’t get much bigger than Russell Simmons. The co-founder of the Def Jam record label, he’s also a fashion entrepreneur creating Argyleculture, Phat Farm, and American Classics. He also owns Tantris, a yoga business.

Raised in Queens, New York, Simmons left school to become one of the forces behind the emerging hip hop culture, promoting stars like The Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and LL Cool J.

He founded Def Jam with business partner Rick Rubin after working with local musicians and later sold the company to Universal Music Group for $100m.

In addition, he has a movie production house and has produced films such as Krush Groove and The Nutty Professor. He also owns television shows, a management company, and a magazine and advertising company.

Finally, he helped found the Hip Hop Summit Action Network, The Rush Philanthropic organisation and the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.

Key achievements

  • He’s the name behind some of the biggest hip hop stars of the last few decades, nurturing them from grassroots level to become successful musicians.
  • A committed philanthropist, Simmons has sought to promote diversity, tolerance and understanding through his charitable organisations.
  • Simmons transferred his success in the music industry to other highly successful businesses.

Lessons for your store 

Be a local champion – start small, work with your community and build a reputation. Once you’re successful, never forget where you came from and always give back. 

Don’t be afraid to try – Simmons has been able to transfer his music business skills over into other successful businesses.

Keep ahead of the curve – while hip hop was dismissed as a fad by many, Simmons foresaw the trend differently as an enduring movement.