How John W. Rogers Jr. started a $10k business that manages $16.8 billion worth of assets today

Stephen Nartey May 12, 2023
By all standards, the journey of the business mogul qualifies as one of the success stories of the financial markets from an African American community. Photo credit: John W. Rogers Jr. on LinkedIn

John W. Rogers Jr. is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Chicago-based firm, Ariel Investments. For those who are not familiar with the big shots on Wall Street, this may pass as another figurehead of a financial entity. However, John is in charge of a firm that currently manages an investment worth over $16.8 billion as of June 2021.

By all standards, the journey of the business mogul qualifies as one of the success stories of the financial markets from an African American community. While many attained feats either by exceptional ability or the environment they grew up in, John owes the secret of his excellence in the market to his father.

The default of many parents on special occasions is to spoil their children with gifts to spice up their early childhood memories with love and care. However, John’s father decided to stoke his passion for investment in his son by buying him stocks instead of toys on his birthdays and Christmas. From the age of 12, the interest in investing became a fun culture for young John; updates on his dividends were emailed to him, and he enjoyed perusing annual, as well as quarterly reports.

His father took a step further and connected the young John to stockbroker, Stacy Adams, one of the first African American brokers in Chicago. Instead of watching movies or playing with friends after school, he spent time learning from Stacy and watched her work on the stocks.

John was born and raised in Chicago’s South Side by prominent members of the African American community. His father, John Rogers Sr., was a war veteran who fought in World War II as a Tuskegee pilot and later became a county judge. He was involved in more than 100 combat missions. John’s mother happened to be the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Chicago Law School and a notable lawyer and prominent figure in Republican politics.

He schooled at Princeton, where he studied economics and played basketball under Hall of Fame coach, Pete Carril. His time at Princeton fueled his interest in investment management, however, he picked an important lesson of business when he captained his school’s basketball team. His coach hammered on the importance of teamwork, which later shaped his perspective on entrepreneurship and investing.

When he completed Princeton in 1980, Stacy helped him to get a job with William Blair & Company at a stockbroker position. After gaining full proficiency in trading, investment banking, and mutual funds, John decided to start his own company in 1983. Against the advice of his contemporaries in the industry and his former boss, he began Ariel Investments with just $10,000 and transformed it into more than a billion dollars in two decades.

His philosophy is simple – everyone must run his race but maintain focus on principles. Once that is done, one would succeed. Ariel Investments is worth $16.8 billion in assets today.

Beyond working as the founder of the billion-dollar investment firm, John is a board member of many profitable corporations, including McDonald’s, Nike, and the New York Times, and is the 2008 recipient of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson Award – which is given to alumni who have achieved outstanding success in their area of expertise.

John co-chaired the 2009 Presidential Inaugural Committee following the election of President Barack Obama, and more recently, joined the Barack Obama Foundation’s Board of Directors.

Last Edited by:Editor Updated: June 11, 2023

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