Just two years ago, Tarik Brooks (‘13-’17) was living in suburban Connecticut with his wife and kids, working in Bridgewater’s Trading department. Now, he and his family reside in sunny Los Angeles, where he is now the lead business advisor for music icon and legendary entrepreneur, Sean “Diddy” Combs.
But as Tarik is quick to point out, his role as Chief Operating Officer of Combs Enterprises — where he oversees a portfolio of companies and advises Combs— is not as different from his hedge fund days, as it may seem. “There are tons of things I learned at Bridgewater that I apply,” says Tarik, adding that he’s grateful to Bridgewater’s Co-Head of Investment Engine, Osman Nalbantoglu, for taking a chance on him without prior hedge fund experience. “At my weekly all-hands meeting, I end with a concept for the week. Unsurprisingly, those concepts are usually principles translated into my own words.” (His favorite: Prioritize: You can have virtually anything you want, but you can’t have everything you want.)
Tarik has always been values-driven, and, while that made him a good fit for Bridgewater, it also brought him to Combs. A few years into his Bridgewater career, Tarik recalls reflecting on what his trajectory would be there. “I was always super impressed by all the folks that I worked with,” he says. “But I was struggling to figure out where I was going to leave my mark.” A mentor asked Tarik if he would consider leaving and he responded that he was good and enjoying the experience. Then the mentor added, “‘Well, I heard Sean Combs is looking for somebody.’”
Coincidentally, Combs had been influential in Tarik’s decision to attend Howard University as an undergraduate. “I heard a story about a student named Sean Combs who, while taking a full course load, was traveling to New York several times each week for an unpaid internship,” says Tarik. “And, I remember saying to myself, ‘I want to go to school with people like that, with that kind of hunger and drive.’ So, Puff has always been a role model for me.”
As the two got to know each other, their exploratory calls began extending to two-hour sessions where they shared their views on the world. “He didn't want to just continue to do what he’d been doing. He wanted to use the platform he built to impact the world in a bigger way to help Black people,” Tarik says of Combs. It was a match: “What's always been important to me as I've built my career was the idea that I need to use everything I learn to help the African American community. That's a personal responsibility I hold.”
Tarik’s job includes overseeing all the brands under the Combs Enterprises umbrella, which span music, spirits, media, fashion, education and more. “My role as Chief Operating Officer has two dimensions: The first piece is to partner closely with the leaders of these businesses to ensure we’re doing all that we can to create value, including leveraging Sean Combs in the best way possible. The second dimension is to lead the assessment and process for any new venture, partnership, or investment. I’ll develop the thesis, make a recommendation, and, if we proceed, lead the deal team.” he explains.
“Really,” he adds of the extensive role, “it’s mostly a matter of effectively utilizing the team and resources around me. We have a lot of great, talented folks who have deep subject matter expertise. My goal is to empower them and ensure we are utilizing the best of what everyone has to offer.”
In his leadership philosophy, the Harvard Business School graduate is the first to admit he borrows heavily from Bridgewater. “One of the most important things I consider as I'm building the team is personal accountability and ownership,” says Tarik. One of his techniques comes straight from the Ray Dalio playbook. “I work to implement his idea that, ‘If we spend an hour together, you should be able to go do work for 50 hours and then come back to me with progress, with updates, with issues that we can work through together,’” says Tarik. “And if I'm doing my job, I'm unlocking you for the next 50 hours of work so that you can own and drive that progress.”
Perhaps, it’s no surprise, then, that Combs and Dalio have struck up a friendship. It was Tarik who introduced them in 2017 when both men were being honored at Forbes’s 100 Greatest Living Business Minds. “Even though they’ve been successful in two very different areas of expertise, the fundamental ideas and values that underlie the way they do things is pretty similar. They may use different words, but they're getting at the same things,” notes Tarik.
In the work Combs and Brooks do together, they strive for excellence — and unprecedented results. “The best part of working here is that everything we do starts with incredible dreams. Sean Combs fearlessly dreams super big.” Consider Ciroc Vodka. Before Combs teamed up with Diageo, the largest spirits producer in the world, the brand was selling “roughly 50,000 - 60,000 cases annually across the globe,” says Tarik. “It was on the verge of being shuttered.” But Combs believed he could turn Ciroc into something special. “Sean’s goals were five times what Diageo believed he could take the brand,” says Tarik. “Fast forward to now, the Ciroc brand sells two million cases annually and is one of the leading ultra premium vodkas in the world.”
For both Combs and Tarik, though, being successful in business is about far more than making money. “I’ve always lived with the acceptance that, one day it will all be all over. And when I come face-to-face with God, all I want to be able to say is, ‘I did everything I could with everything you gave me.’ If I can do that, then that to me is a life well-lived,” says Tarik. “So when I think about dream projects, they don’t necessarily exist within a particular industry or functional area. Where they really exist is in the idea that we’re making the world better. When Sean and I have conversations about what we do next, we think about what impact we will have on our communities and the world at large. So whatever we do is going to be BIG.”