Inspire Bold Leadership
Why JPMorgan Chase board member Mellody Hobson values diversity
Mellody Hobson is President of Ariel Investments, an investment firm headquartered in Chicago, and a relatively new member of JPMorgan Chase's board of directors. She recently shared thoughts on the value of education, inclusion, and mentorship.
Here's an excerpt, edited and condensed for clarity:
Q:| You're a supporter of financial literacy and investor education. What role did that play in your decision to join JPMorgan Chase's board? And what were some other factors?
First and foremost, my decision was based on the fact that JPMorgan Chase is a world class institution that also happens to be the largest bank in America. For someone in the financial services industry, this is the Holy Grail. I also feel very strongly about investor education and financial literacy, and I knew the bank is as focused on those areas as I am. We don't learn about investing in schools in America, which puts a greater burden on financial institutions to teach about saving and investing issues that are crucial.
Q:| As an education advocate, what do you think can be done to ensure that all children have equal access to quality education?
Education is the one thing that can't be taken away from you. Nearly all of the social ills in our society tie back to how educated we are. So, to me, it's the very best investment. But we have light years to go in terms of what will have to be done to ensure every child in America has access to a great education. What Warren Buffett said about banning private schools to fix education in America is so interesting because then everyone would be obsessed with getting the best education for their kids. We all have to own the problem and be part of the solution, as opposed to making it someone else's problem.
Q:| What do you see as the competitive advantage of diversity?
It's a competitive advantage in our society and in our world because it allows us to better connect with our customers, employees, business partners and suppliers. I've read books by Scott Page, author of The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies. He created the first mathematical formula for diversity. He says that if you're trying to solve a really hard problem, you want diverse thought and diverse intellect. Page also talks about the benefit of disagreements. What that means is to the extent that there's disagreement, there are also better outcomes, as opposed to group think that usually constricts our ability to solve problems.
Q:| Have opportunities for black people in the workforce improved?
From a societal standpoint, there's a tremendous amount of work to be done, and we've barely moved the needle. As a fiduciary of JPMorgan Chase, I think about how I can make the bank a stronger place. If the bank is diverse, we will be stronger.
Q:| And for women? How do you ensure women have opportunities for growth and advancement at Ariel?
On our five-person management committee, there are three women—an Indian woman, a black woman—me—and a white woman. We have an African American man—John Rogers, who founded our firm—and a white male. That tells you how diverse we are, and how strongly we believe in it. We have a lot of women leaders, but it's not been a function of us having a quota system. It's a function of having found women who are incredibly capable and fantastic inside our firm.
Q:| At your 2014 TED Talk, you mentioned that people are generally reluctant to talk about race—which, you contend, is precisely why people should do it. In the past four years, have people become more comfortable with the topic?
I don't think it's shifted in the way I had hoped. I tell people they should spend time with those who don't look like them, don't think like them and don't come from where they come from. I suggest they make a concerted effort to do that, and be willing to have difficult conversations where they can learn.
Q:| What role did mentorship play in your career advancement?
There are too many people for me to even name who helped me get to where I am, and I'm incredibly grateful. What they did for me was tell me the truth in terms of giving me direct and candid feedback about how I could do better. Those were the people who mentored me in a way that made the biggest impact on my life. You need to invite feedback into your world, and when you get feedback you don't agree with, or feedback that stings, don't berate the people who gave it. Ask yourself, "What am I supposed to be learning in this moment?"
Q:| What inspired you to pursue a career in finance? What skills propelled you to your role at Ariel?
When I was growing up, we had a tough existence. We used to get evicted, and our lights would get turned off—all sorts of things would happen to us. Because of the insecurity I felt from that existence, I was desperate to understand money, and I was very focused on how I could have a more secure life. A more secure life to me meant money. Money wasn't something my family knew a lot about, so I decided it was something I was going to learn about.
What helped me get here is that I am incredibly driven and ambitious with a really formidable work ethic. The average American has 11 jobs in their lifetime; I've had my same job for 27 years. I was willing to play long ball, which is very rare these days. And that, I know, helped me to be successful.
Lisa Sanders is a Vice President at JPMorgan Chase, and a Chase News contributor.