Starting off right out of school as an intern at Ariel Investments 28 years ago, Mellody Hobson has risen through the ranks to become the co-chief executive officer and the highest shareholder of the investment firm.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in South African studies from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of International Relations and Public Policy in 1991, Mellody was hired as an intern at Ariel Investments, a Chicago-based investment management firm founded in 1983.
In 2000, less than 10 years after joining the firm, she became the president of the firm after having served in the capacities of senior vice president and director of marketing.
This month, the firm announced on its website that Hobson will be purchasing a 14 per cent ownership stake from the current CEO, John Rogers, by July 19, which makes her not only the largest shareholder in the firm at 39.5 per cent but also a co-CEO with John Rogers.
Mellody Hobson is the youngest of six children born to a single mother who worked as a real estate agent. She grew up in downtown Chicago, attended Ogden Elementary School and later went to St. Ignatius College Prep high school, and subsequently attended Princeton University.
After high school, she was approached by Ivy League Harvard University and Princeton University. Having originally planned to attend Harvard, she finally went to Princeton, where she started studying for a degree in mathematics. After weighing her career options with a mathematics degree and not being convinced enough, she changed course and ventured into South African studies.
Growing up, Hobson recalls instances where her family would get evicted or have their lights, phones and water disconnected and how they would heat water on stoves for a bath because her mother struggled to make ends meet.
She described those times as “incredibly challenging and uncertain”; times which made her and her family anxious. She recently told Thrive Global in an interview that those tough times have, however, shaped her as an adult and have contributed immensely to her success as a businesswoman.
Hobson, years ago, used to pay her mortgage and phone bills an entire year in advance due to fear of being homeless. Today, even though she does not harbour that fear anymore, she still applies herself to her work “as if I need the meal at the end of the day.”
At age 17, Hobson was spotted and recruited by John Rogers at a college recruitment event in Chicago for high school students. It was her academic excellence that made her stand out and later, she joined Ariel as an intern – the summers between her sophomore and junior years at Princeton. Upon graduation from Princeton, she became an intern in the client services and marketing team until she became a full staff.
Ariel Investments is a Chicago investment firm that manages nearly $13 billion in assets and is also one of the largest African American-owned money management and mutual fund companies in the United States. Founded in 1983 by fellow Princeton alumnus John Rogers, the firm has its headquarters in Chicago, with satellite offices in New York and Sydney. The firm employs over a hundred people in total and is 95 per cent owned by employees and board members.
In addition to being the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Ariel Investment Trust, Hobson is a regular contributor on financial issues on CBS This Morning and formerly a spokesperson for the annual Ariel/Schwab Black Investor Survey.
Hobson serves on the board of many organizations, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., the Chicago Public Education Fund, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art and the Sundance Institute. She is also a director of the Starbucks Corporation, and formerly a director of The Estée Lauder Companies Inc. After being a member of the directorial board for years, Mellody Hobson replaced Roger Enrico as Chairman of DreamWorks Animation in 2012.
The 50-year-old businesswoman has been acclaimed in selections such as Time’s 2015 100 List, the magazine’s annual list of the one hundred most influential people in the world and was inducted as a Laureate of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois.
She was also awarded the Order of Lincoln (the State’s highest honour) by the Governor of Illinois in 2018. She is currently married to famous American filmmaker George Lucas with whom she has a daughter, Everest.