Diversity pays business dividends, says fund-firm President Hobson

Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments and a Starbucks board member, has been a strong voice for increasing the number of women and minorities in boardrooms. Reflecting “the society we all live in,” she says, “increases your chances of success.”

Mellody Hobson, in her mid-twenties and a newcomer to the world of investment, walked into a vast office in Texas with two senior male colleagues for a meeting. At one end of the room was their host’s desk, with two extra chairs. At the other, fully 30 feet away, was a separate area with a sofa.

“Fellas, why don’t you sit here at my desk?” she recalls the host saying. “And miss, you can take the couch. ‘None of us is sitting down,’ I said.” And they all moved to the couch and held the meeting there, the 48-year-old president of Ariel Investments recounted on a recent visit to Hong Kong.

The story sums up the attitudes that prevailed in the industry, and Hobson’s response reveals the grit that propelled her from intern to president at 31 of Ariel, the Chicago-based mutual-fund company that manages assets worth about $12 billion.

Mellody Hobson, president of mutual-fund company Ariel Investments

Age: 48

Education: Bachelor’s degree from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of International Relations and Public Policy. Honorary doctorate degrees from Howard University, St. Mary’s College and the University of Southern California

Other activities: Board chair at The Economic Club of Chicago; board chair for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, founded by her husband, George Lucas

Source: Bloomberg, L.A. Times

Her early experiences led her to become an advocate for increasing the number of women and minorities in boardrooms. Hobson, who sits on the boards of Starbucks and Estée Lauder Companies and served as chair of DreamWorks Animation, is discouraged at recent trends in the U.S., where white supremacists have gained publicity, pay inequality remains trenchant and a Google engineer circulated the view that women are biologically less suited to his field.

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“On my worst day I always tell myself I’m not in a field picking cotton,” she said.

“Progress isn’t always a straight line,” Hobson added, referring to a quote from Barack Obama, who has close ties to Ariel founder and Hobson mentor John Rogers. “Some of the rhetoric that has surfaced in the U.S. is dangerous and…

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