John Rogers

John Rogers

Chairman and CEO, Ariel Investments

It would take a lot of space to list all the highlights of John W. Rogers Jr.’s life. But some of the 58-year-old investment manager’s accomplishments include beating Michael Jordan in a one-on-one basketball game, having a three-day winning streak on Wheel of Fortune as a college student and creating the Ariel Community Academy to promote financial literacy.

Oh, and at age 24 he started his own investment firm, which has grown into the $10.4 billion Ariel Investments, the nation’s largest African-American-led asset management firm.

Mr. Rogers is a proud Chicagoan with a passion for value investing, but he is also known for leveraging his success to help others build better lives for themselves.

While he describes himself as a money manager “first and foremost,” the themes running through much of his adult life have been the promotion of diversity in corporate America and breaking down barriers that prevent others from reaching their full potential.

InvestmentNews: You started Ariel Investments when you were just 24 years old. To what do you attribute your early success?

John Rogers: A couple things come to mind. We had good performance right out of the box. This is a performance game, and first impressions matter.

It also helped that I was able to articulate our philosophy and strategy with passion. People could see I believed in the Warren Buffett approach of being a patient investor with small- and mid-cap stocks.

IN: You have built a reputation for promoting diversity throughout the financial services industry. What drives that passion?

JR: It started very early. I was the first African-American professional to be hired at William Blair, where I spent two and a half years as a stock broker. I also remember my father’s stock broker, who was an African-American, and I knew he was a pioneer.

It was pretty clear to me the industry was remarkably undiverse.

My father got me interested in investing by giving me stock as gifts when I was 12 years old. I love the stock market and I’ve always wanted to get more people interested. But I also wanted to get African-Americans interested in investing in the stock market.

I noticed even those people of color in my community who had achieved a level of success weren’t comfortable investing in the stock market. And that is still prevalent today. We’ve done a lot of research on this. It’s still a major issue for our community.

IN: Do you feel like you’ve made progress in helping advance opportunities for minorities?

JR: Yes and no. Here in Chicago, and it’s similar in other parts of the country, the percentage of African-Americans working in this business is still less than 1%. There are still firms that have never hired an African-American. And in the alternative investments world, it doesn’t look much different than baseball did in 1940.

IN: Why do you think that is the case?

JR: Companies can fall into comfort zones of hiring from their familiar communities.

Part of the solution is that we hope these large financial services institutions would really work hard to create opportunities for minorities. For example, our company president, Mellody Hobson, started as a summer intern, and she’s been here 25 years.

In general, African-Americans are not pursuing careers in the finance industry because people tend to follow careers they’re familiar with, and a lot of people are not aware of this world that is so lucrative and so important.

One of the things that’s pretty neat about our firm is that when you develop a reputation as having diverse talent, we can go to any university and recruit from different walks of life. It’s an advantage when you have a reputation that you will look anywhere to find talent.

It’s also important for the customers to ask about the diversity of companies, if you really want to see things change.

I tell people all the time, if you really want to see more diverse talent in the financial services industry, the people buying the financial products have to demand the teams servicing them look like America.

IN: How would you prefer to be recognized, as an investment manager or as an African-American entrepreneur?

JR: First and foremost, I want to be known as an excellent value investor. That’s what I’ve been doing the last 35 years ó reading and studying, and trying to be the best investor possible.

– Jeff Benjamin