I’ve admired Mellody Hobson, a financial advisor and businesswoman, for a long time. Recognized as one of the most powerful women in business, Mellody has spent decades mentoring men and women on the importance of financial education. I’ve flipped through countless copies of Black Enterprise in search of her financial advice column and absorbed as much of her knowledge as possible.
Seemingly overnight, Mellody became my mentor. I was hungry to learn more about business and financial literacy from a woman who looked like me, and I gravitated toward Mellody’s fresh perspective. Little did I know, Mellody was just getting started. Her financial prowess would shatter long-established glass ceilings and pave the way for people like me to understand and excel in the world of finance.
Determination Despite Hardship
Born to a single mother in Southside Chicago, Mellody Hobson was no stranger to making a dollar stretch. Never one to make excuses, the prolific businesswoman was determined to learn from growing up in a low-income home. “My mother believed anything was possible,” says Hobson. “Unfortunately, her vision and dreams did not amount to financial success.”
The Wall Street Journal’s 50 “Women to Watch” was obsessed with education which led to Ivy League aspirations. “I started telling my mother I was going to go to Yale. I posted a sign on the mirror in my bedroom that said ‘A+,’” said Hobson. While she opted for Princeton, Hobson made the most of her ivy experience.
The Power of Possibility
In the summer of her junior year, Hobson accepted an internship at Ariel Investments (Ariel), the nation's first Black-owned money management firm. She admits being drawn to the firm because of its founder, fellow Princeton graduate John Rogers Jr. “John was this wunderkind. I saw him as a conduit to the knowledge I needed to be financially secure long term. I knew right away I wanted to work there permanently,” said Hobson.
From a fledgling in client services to President, overseeing nearly $3 billion in assets. “I was given so many opportunities to learn and grow at Ariel. We’re doing important work, improving people’s lives by growing their money or helping them start a business,” said Hobson. In 9 years, Melody Hobson also conquered the roles of Vice President of Marketing, Senior VP, and Director of Marketing.
According to the SEC’s Form 4, the wife of billionaire film director and producer George Lucas has made over 34 trades in JPMorgan Chase & Co stock since 2006. Hobson most recently purchased 670 JPM stock units valued at $100,286 in January 2022. As of March 2022, Ariel has $16.95 billion in assets under management and $0.87 billion as of December 2021 for Ariel Alternatives, a subsidiary of Ariel Investments.
Unfortunately, the business world is often isolating and discouraging for African American women; no one knows that more than Hobson. “I’ve been consistently underestimated because of my race and gender, but that underestimation has fueled me.” Despite moments of pain and anguish, the Vice-Chair of Starbucks Corporation remains committed to helping Black and Latinx groups establish themselves in the business.
Becoming a Household Name
After receiving a call from Emmy Award-winning TV broadcast journalist, Diane Sawyer, national recognition was inevitable. “Diane Sawyer read an article about me. She recognized that we don’t have African American women talking about money, and she was my advocate at ABC.”
Hobson’s 2009 hit show on ABC titled UN-BROKE: What You Need to Know About Money was an unconventional look at finance fundamentals—covering topics like credit cards, mortgages, stocks and bonds, investing, and 401(k)s in an informative and entertaining format.
Hobson discussed money and economic trends on major television networks, radio programs, and media publications. “My greatest skill is communication. I can take complex ideas and make them understandable for everyone,” said Hobson.
Breaking Barriers for People of Color
To provide Chicago teens with high-quality, out-of-school programs, Hobson started the non-profit, After School Matters. She also launched Project Black, an Ariel Alternatives initiative focused on scaling sustainable, minority-owned businesses and closing the racial wealth gap. Hobson is also the first African American woman named Independent Director of JPMorgan Chase & Co., where she encourages a new class of Black and Latinx entrepreneurs with racial equity.
In 2019, Hobson was named Ariel’s co-CEO, holding majority ownership at 39.5%. Co-CEO John Rogers has 34.1%, employees and board members share 21.8%, and outside investors have the remaining 4.6%.
Most recently, Mellody Hobson made history again–this time in the world of sports. Hobson partnered with the ownership group, led by Walmart’s heir, Rob Walton, to purchase the NFL franchise, Denver Broncos, for a whopping $4.65 billion. While tennis royalty Venus and Serena Williams have held limited stakes in the NFL franchise Miami Dolphins, Hobson is the first Black woman of an original ownership group.
From no financial education to sharing money management tips with the world, Mellody Hobson has earned every ounce of her success. She hopes people will read her story and think, If she can do it, so can I.
Melody Hobson has a remarkable story, but she also has tremendous fortitude. When very few women of color existed in financial spaces, she was determined to provide financial literacy to Black and Latinx communities. Her relentless dedication to financial literacy, diversity, and equality raised her profile as one of the most influential people in the business.