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Hobson, Mellody 1969–

Mellody Hobson 1969

Business executive

Strove for Early Excellence

Promoted Sound Investment Philosophy

Modeled Role of Success


In a mere ten years, Princeton graduate Mellody Hobson rose from intern to president of Chicago-based Ariel Capital Management, an investment firm catering to the needs of African-American investors. For a time Ariel was the first and only minority-owned investment firm offering public mutual funds. As a top executive for one of the few African-American owned investment companies in the nation, Hobson has had the opportunity to address the needs of African-American investors. As the African-American middle class has grown, so have the number of African-American investors. While many of these investors use such vehicles as bonds, securities, and real estate, Hobson viewed stocks as the best vehicle to grow significant wealth. This is the message that she has taken to the black community since she began her career with Ariel. Hobson told Robert Kurson of Esquire, My dream is of seeing black grandmothers in their bathing suits at the beach, retired comfortably. My dream is that the beach is their option.

Strove for Early Excellence

The daughter of a single mother who worked as a real-estate agent, Hobson grew up in downtown Chicago. She was the youngest of six children, though by her own admission she felt like an only child because her oldest sibling was 25 years older than she, and the youngest was nine years older. In a way, Im an only child, she recalled in an article for the New York Times. I had five moms all the time. Whatever they told me to do, I had to do. At St. Ignatius College Preparatory School in Chicago, the hardworking Hobson earned top grades and was, as she told Sandra Block of USA Today, neurotic about schoolI was beyond obsessed. I used to cry if I couldnt go to school.

As she prepared to graduate from high school, Hobson found herself courted by Ivy League bastions Harvard University and Princeton University. Though she had originally planned to attend Harvard, she finally opted for Princeton, where she began working toward a degree in mathematics. After considering what her career options would be with a mathematics degree, however, she transferred to the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton. There she majored in South African studies. While working on her senior thesis for Princeton, in 1991 she traveled to South Africa, where by chance she met

At a Glance

Born on April, 3, 1969, in Chicago, IL; daughter of Dorothy Ashley. Education: Princeton University, BA, 1991.

Career: Ariel Capital Management Inc., senior vice president and director of marketing, 1991-2000, president, 2000.

Member: Board of directors: Field Museum; Do Something (nonprofit organization for young people); Civic Federation of Chicago; Chicago Public Library; Tellabs (Naperville, IL) Princeton Club of Chicago; St. lgnatius Preparatory School Atumni organization.

Selected Awards: One of the 20 Leaders of the Future, Ebony Magazine, 1992; one of 20 Under 30, Working Women Magazine, 1992.

Addresses: Office Ariel Capital Management Inc., 200 E. Randolph Dr., Ste. 2900, Chicago, IL 60601. Website

Nelson Mandela, who had recently been released from prison.

As a Princeton student, Hobson did a summer internship at Ariel, which was run by another Princeton graduate, John W. Rogers, Jr. That experience convinced me that was where my future would be, she reflected in Black Collegian Online. After graduating in 1991, she briefly considered pursuing a career in journalism before deciding to join Ariel. She knew almost immediately that she had made the right choice. My first day of work, John [Rogers] told me not to let titles get in the way of good ideas, and dont be afraid to say what you think, she recalled in Honey Magazine. It wasnt long before Hobson put one of her own ideas to good use. While she was the vice president and director of marketing for the company, she oversaw client services and participated in strategic planning. Hobson realized that while investment companies had until then conducted surveys to pinpoint the practices and needs of investors by age and gender, such surveys had not been used to ascertain information by race. A frustrated Hobson began to wonder how she could market products to African Americans without this data, so in 1996 she launched an annual survey of African-American investors, which later became a joint effort with Wall Street broker Charles Schwab.

Promoted Sound Investment Philosophy

It is no coincidence that Ariel adopted the tortoise as their company logo. Long-term investment is crucial when it comes to accruing wealth in the stock market and, as mutual fund managers come, Ariel has a relatively conservative investment philosophy. Hobson has had fun with the tortoise theme, decorating the corporate offices and her private office with visions of this mascot. I wanted the collection to be eclectic and fun, she told the Wall Street Journals Nancy D. Holt. Yet the tortoises, which range from whimsical to serious artworks, act as a subtle reminder of the companys strategy of slow and steady growth in wealth for its clients, and in its growth as a business. Im always factoring in a worst-case scenario, Hobson told Chicago Business. People call me a Depression baby, not someone born during the Great Depressionshe is too young for thatbut someone who grew up in Lake Point Tower in downtown Chicago. In 1994 Ariels managers decided to break away from the Calvert Group and market Ariels three mutual funds directly. Although assets at first plunged by 25% to $300 million, by 2003 they had more than doubled to $700 million.

To get her message across, Hobson used many avenues: she speaks at events around the country, and she has offered ten-week courses on investingone of which attracted 1,300 students. She is a regular financial contributor to ABC networks Good Morning America and reports on finances for WGNs Minority Business Report. After a decade she has seen the number of African-American stockholders rise, yet she still continued striving to make the stock market common dinner table conversation in black households across America. Im heartened by these stock ownership trends, she was quoted as saying in Knight-Ridder Tribune Business News. Im very pleased with the progress our community is making. We are beginning to recognize the power of compounding through stock market investing.

Even so, for Hobson there is always more to be done. About getting the word out, Hobson commented in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The media are making a big difference, but there are a few things that still need to be done. One is that investing should be taught in schools. It amazes me that we have courses in auto repair but not investing. To support the development of future investors, the company created and financially supported the Ariel Community Academy. As part of the curriculum at the chosen inner-city Chicago public school, the first-grade class is given $20,000 to invest. Over the course of their elementary education, the students are taught to invest. They study all kinds of investments, and by sixth grade they manage 25% of the fund. At the end of the eighth grade the students give $20,000 to the incoming first-grade class, while the investment profits are used to fund academic scholarships and make charitable donations.

Modeled Role of Success

In 2000 Hobson became president of Ariel. As president she oversaw the companys dealings with corporate, public, and non-profit institutions; she also directed the firms marketing and strategy plans. It has taken some time for her and for others to become accustomed to her soaring success. As a high-profile person who is rich in her own right, she is breaking down racial barriers by her mere presence. Hobson noted that she can go for days without seeing another person of color in a senior position. She explained in PR Newswire: People come into my office all the time where Im the president of the firm, and they give me their coat and ask me for coffee because they dont know who I am. So I hang up the coat, get the coffee and then sit at the head of the table.

Because she believes that hard work and success go hand in hand, Hobson clocked long weeks, leading by example. Im not a big believer in assuming attributes that dont come naturally, she told Chicago Tribune reporter Carol Kleiman. The most effective leaders have a strong sense of self that is not shaped by conventional wisdom. For Hobson, combining the traits of a woman as well as a businessperson have made her a successful executive. Women should be strong but not tough, and kind but not soft. I think thats something that took us a while to figure out, she added.

Hobson has given back to the Chicago community in many ways, serving on the boards of charitable and community organizations, including the Chicago Public Library and the Princeton and St. Ignatius Preparatory School Alumni organizations. She has her fingers in a dozen pies, Leigh Bienen, a senior lecturer at Northwestern University, told Block. Shes always on the organizing committee. Ive never heard her say shes too busy. In 2000 she headed Bill Bradleys presidential fundraising campaign for the Midwest. Impressed by Hobsons abilities, Bill Bradley called her one of his daughters and incredibly competent, according to USA Today.

Somehow Hobson has managed to sandwich a little leisure into her hectic schedule, which begins at 4:30 each morning with a physical workout and an early arrival at her office. One year she took a surfing vacation with friends, keeping the surfboard in her office as a reminder of a great time. Hobson talked about her goals in USA Today: To have an interesting life, spend time with good people, and do good work for other people. She added, I think work is life. I love waking up every day with a sense of purpose.



Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 24, 2000.

Black Enterprise, April 1996.

Chicago Tribune, May 15, 2001.

Dallas Morning News, June 24, 2002.

Esquire, December 2002.

Financial Post, December 16, 2000.

Honey Magazine, August 2000.

Knight-Ridder Tribune Business News, June 12, 2002.

Lightwave, June 2002, p. 109.

Newsday, June 11, 2002.

Newsweek, March 3, 2003.

New York Times, December 5, 2001, p. C6.

PR Newswire, February 23, 2003.

USA Today, June 6, 2001, p. 05B.

Wall Street Journal, November 21, 2001.


Investment Advice for Women: Chat with Finance Expert Mellody Hobson,, (March 24, 2003).

Mellody Hobson, Chicago Business, (March 24, 2003).

Reflections on Success, Black Collegian Online, (March 24, 2003).

Jeanne M. Lesinski

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