At 35, Tawan Davis already has impeccable business credentials. But what’s even more impressive is the stage at which he figured out exactly what he didn’t want to do for a living. “I was an ordained minister at 17,” explains Davis, now chief investment officer of the Peebles Corporation, a national real estate investment and development firm. He is also  the president of Peebles Capital Partners. “I wanted to go to the seminary, but I pondered how I could affect the community the most. The answer was, by generating wealth and income, I could build a business and have a unique impact.”

Davis couldn’t have been more correct: There aren’t many executives his age lording over commercial real estate deals—and generating jobs in industries such as construction and hospitality services—worth more than $5 billion.

Before landing at the Peebles Corporation, the 31-year-old firm founded by Black entrepreneurship guru Don Peebles, Davis channeled his energy into higher education. He left his native Portland, Ore., to earn a bachelor’s degree with honors in political economy from Georgetown University in 2001; a master’s in sociology and economics from Oxford University in England in 2004; and an MBA in finance and real estate from Harvard University in 2006 for good measure. He began his career on Wall Street doing deals for Goldman Sachs, where he was bitten hard by the real estate bug while helping companies battered by the early-2000s tech bust sell off their properties. Though successful, the burgeoning business leader needed more.