After a single phone call, Mellody Hobson is co-CEO of 1st Black-owned mutual fund company with $14.9B in assets

Abu Mubarik April 23, 2024
Mellody Hobson in her early days at the Ariel Investments as discussed in a new documentary. COURTESY OF ARIEL INVESTMENTS. Photo credit: Fortune

Mellody Hobson is the co-CEO of the first Black-owned mutual fund company in the U.S., Ariel Investments. The company was started by John W. Rogers Jr. in 1983 when he was just 24 years old.

Headquartered in Chicago, with offices in New York, San Francisco, and Sydney, Hobson joined the company right after graduating college in 1991. However, her journey with the company started when she interned there alongside T. Rowe Price while in college, according to Fortune.

In her final year, she started preparing to go on interviews for analyst positions at firms in New York City. One day, while sitting in the basement of the then Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton writing her thesis and preparing for one of her interviews, she decided to go directly to Rogers who could teach her a thing or two in the corporate world.

“And I thought, ‘What am I doing?’” Hobson recalled to Fortune. “I can go and work directly with John Rogers, and I could sit at the feet of someone who’s so well respected, and he can teach me. I called John from a payphone, and I think I called collect.”

“I said, ‘I’m going to come to Ariel,’ and then I called and canceled my other interviews,” she said. “And all of my friends thought that I was nuts because Ariel was tiny. And they said to me, ‘Why wouldn’t you go to a big Wall Street firm?’ But to me, I thought I could learn from him.”

She got mentored by Hobson after joining Ariel and after spending nearly 20 years in the company, she was named co-CEO in 2019. This was made known in a 25-minute documentary about Ariel, which was produced by McGuire, an award-winning filmmaker and producer, and a New York Times bestselling author.

He touted Ariel’s journey as an “American success story.” “I don’t come from the world of finance, but from a filmmaking perspective, it was just such an incredible story of perseverance, excellence, and trailblazing,” McGuire said.

Speaking on the challenges the company went through during the global financial crisis, Hobson referred to that period as “the worst time in my career; it was a crisis of confidence.”

She recalled traveling with Rodgers when a client canceled a billion-dollar contract it had with Ariel.

“They said they were terminating, and it was a billion dollars,” Hobson recalled. “John and I both went into survival mode, and told them, ‘You should wait. This is the worst moment in the market. You don’t sell now. This is the worst thing you could possibly do.’”

She continued, “I remember, I burst into tears. John didn’t cry, but I was crying. And he said, ‘This is all my fault—I picked the stocks.’ And I said, ‘No, it’s all my fault. I didn’t do a good job of explaining how we invest.’”

Today, Ariel holds $14.9 billion in assets. In addition to her work at Ariel, Hobson, the youngest of six children raised by a single mom, also serves as board chair of Starbucks and a director at JPMorgan Chase.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: April 23, 2024


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