Mellody Hobson is the current co-CEO and president of Ariel Investments, a minority owned money management firm based in Chicago that manages over 13 billion in assets. Her career accolades go beyond this though. She is the former chairperson of DreamWorks Animation and serves on numerous boards including JP Morgan, Starbucks, Estee Lauder and Quibi, among others. Sheryl Sandberg lauds her as one of the inspirations behind her award winning book, LeanIn.
But why is the world clamoring for her talent?
Mellody is a remarkable story of groundedness, ambition and a deeply rooted purpose. She turned the adversity she experienced early on in life into the driving force for everything she does.
“I don't want to be a victim. I want to be a victor”- Mellody Hobson, Forbes 2019 interview
Mellody Hobson’s work ethic is legendary. Ariel investments is actually the only place she has worked at consistently over the last 28 years. She started off as an intern when she was a sophomore at Princeton and has the most intriguing story about how she strategically got closer to him over time by doing even the most mundane of tasks and outworking everyone around her. Soon enough he bought into her talent and was introducing her to major names in the industry as she soured in the company. It's the same work ethic she continues to display, including a genuine interest in people and a desire to continuously learn and improve herself.
Secondly Mellody owns her story. Growing up as one of six children to a single mother, where they did not always make ends meet, she draws inspiration from that time in her life as a driving force for the things she does now. She went into investment as a career because having grown with so little, she really wanted to understand money and have enough to make good financial decisions. She is still passionate about financial literacy especially among black people and she is the co- founder of Ariel Community Academy, a public school on the South Side of Chicago that includes coursework on financial literacy.
Mellody also had the ability to dream beyond her circumstances for which she credits her mother. Even though they did not have much, Mellody’s mother instilled in her kids a strong sense of self that prepared them for a world that may not always regard them well because they are black. Mellody grew up believing that regardless of her race, circumstances or anything, she still deserved to occupy spaces and could be whatever she wanted to be. Consequently Mellody is unapologetically black, and on a podcast interview when asked if she felt any burden when she was the only black person in rooms, her response was no, it's something that just is and she uses it to her advantage.
I had to stop here and reflect on that Mellody's mindset, is something most people of color struggle with, and it's called impostor syndrome; feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. People of color are constantly fighting mental battles of belonging in predominantly white spaces and to already grow up believing, you do belong is a gift and a privilege. I aspire to parent my future kid the way Mellody’s mother did her :)!
As one of the most decorated black women in corporate America, Mellody actively uses her privilege, position and power to speak on the importance of inclusion and diversity. Mellody has one of the most watched ted talks from 2014, “Color Blind or Color Brave”, which makes the case that speaking openly about race, and particularly about diversity in hiring, makes for better businesses and a better society.This ted talk has now been viewed over 4 million times and is absolutely worth your watch as well if you have not seen it.
Mellody takes this energy into her work and her boardrooms as well, challenging the companies Ariel investments works with on their diversity and inclusion. For her, it is not enough to give lip service to diversity. In her 2019 McKinsey interview, she challenged other companies to go beyond this and actually incentivize on diversity targets. When you tie people’s compensation and performance to something, they take it more seriously.
“Can you be a superstar at this company and fail on diversity goals? Can you get your full bonus? If you can, it’s not important.”- Mellody Hobson on CEOs lauding diversity, McKinsey Interview 2019.
Mellody Hobson is a force to be reckoned with and is an incredible example for all of us seeking to sit at the highest tables in the corporate world. When asked if by now she feels like she has achieved everything, she replied by quoting Laird Hamilton. “Never let your memories be bigger than your dreams.” You have to dream big every day. It is what gives her purpose and fulfillment and joy. I aspire to be as inspiring and as grounded as Mellody Hobson in my career.
Below are a few more articles to learn about Mellody Hobson!