Mellody Hobson: The True Superhero of Boardroom Bravery

From a very early age Mellody Hobson was learning vital lessons about the importance of financial stability, and throughout her stellar career she’s made time to share that knowledge with others, doing what she can to help other families avoid the insecurity and anxiety that plagued her own childhood. She’s also become a trailblazer for black women in business and her message of ‘color bravery’ is a vital rallying cry that seeks to shake up the passive, stale boardroom of corporate America.

An insecure childhood

Mellody was born in 1969 in Chicago; her father left before she was born and she was raised by her mother, Dorothy, who had five older children by a different father. Dorothy was a real estate speculator who bought and sold property in the Chicago area, but according to her children she lacked the ruthless streak necessary to thrive in the cut-throat world of residential property. She couldn’t bring herself to evict non-paying tenants and also suffered from the illegal and discriminatory practice of redlining by mortgage brokers. As a consequence, she often struggled to provide a stable home for her own family. Mellody recalls that they would frequently move house, often living in one or two rooms of unfinished and unfurnished properties that her mother was trying to sell, and forced to heat water for baths on the stove. These experiences motivated Mellody’s future endeavors, instilling in her both a fear of financial insecurity and a determination to help herself - and others - avoid similar circumstances in future.

Mellody Hobson: The True Superhero of Boardroom Bravery

BY
SPYSCAPE
5
MINUTE READ
Share with Twitter
@SPYSCAPE
Share
Share to Facebook
Share to Twitter
Share with email

From a very early age Mellody Hobson was learning vital lessons about the importance of financial stability, and throughout her stellar career she’s made time to share that knowledge with others, doing what she can to help other families avoid the insecurity and anxiety that plagued her own childhood. She’s also become a trailblazer for black women in business and her message of ‘color bravery’ is a vital rallying cry that seeks to shake up the passive, stale boardroom of corporate America.

An insecure childhood

Mellody was born in 1969 in Chicago; her father left before she was born and she was raised by her mother, Dorothy, who had five older children by a different father. Dorothy was a real estate speculator who bought and sold property in the Chicago area, but according to her children she lacked the ruthless streak necessary to thrive in the cut-throat world of residential property. She couldn’t bring herself to evict non-paying tenants and also suffered from the illegal and discriminatory practice of redlining by mortgage brokers. As a consequence, she often struggled to provide a stable home for her own family. Mellody recalls that they would frequently move house, often living in one or two rooms of unfinished and unfurnished properties that her mother was trying to sell, and forced to heat water for baths on the stove. These experiences motivated Mellody’s future endeavors, instilling in her both a fear of financial insecurity and a determination to help herself - and others - avoid similar circumstances in future.

Article Ad
Article Ad
Article Ad

That motivation ensured that she was a highly diligent and successful student and, after graduating high school, she went to Princeton. It was here that she first met John W. Rogers Jr., the CEO of Ariel Investments, now one of the largest African-American owned money management companies in the US. Rogers immediately recognized Mellody’s potential, later telling Vanity Fair: ”When I saw Mellody, I saw this bright, brilliant person who could indeed achieve anything.” He immediately offered her an internship. Once she had graduated, Hobson joined Ariel full time and quickly rose through the ranks. By the year 2000, she was president of the company, responsible for a large portfolio of clients and managing several billion dollars worth of assets. Ariel also developed less orthodox responsibilities in other areas; one such enterprise was the Ariel Community Academy, a public school founded in Chicago by Rogers and Hobson in 1993, which taught students financial literacy lessons alongside the usual curriculum; an unusual move for an investment firm but a typical one for Hobson with her commitment to public education. 

Everybody loves Mellody

In the meantime, Mellody was impressing everybody she met, and she began to meet increasingly impressive people. Her list of public admirers reads like a Who’s Who of American corporate society; for example Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg cites her as a tremendous influence, saying of her, “My life was altered by meeting her, and that’s not something I say lightly. She is such a big part of my path taken. I think she does that for everyone.” Another admirer is Jeffrey Katzenberg, co-founder of DreamWorks, who said “she has a grace and graciousness about her that is singular” and went on to appoint her as chairman of the DreamWorks board. The chairman and CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, agrees, “When I think of her, I think of grace. She’s the most unique individual. I love Mellody Hobson.” Once again, this regard landed her on the Starbucks board, and she’s also served on the board of the Estee Lauder Companies and is a director at  JPMorgan Chase. Other noted admirers include Arianna Huffington and Oprah Winfrey, whose friendship with Hobson led to the creation of her Teavana Oprah Chai Tea brand with Starbucks in 2014. She was even described as “the least famous person at her own wedding”, after marrying fellow True Superhero George Lucas in 2014. 

Mellody Hobson: The True Superhero of Boardroom Bravery

Rubbing shoulders with the great and good of American high society did little to change Hobson though, and she remained focused on her mission to help increase financial awareness and stability among working people. While her own career was taking off, she found time to work as a financial journalist as a regular contributor to ABC’s Good Morning America, and performing a similar role at CBS. She managed to make the most of her celebrity contacts when she created the one-hour special Unbroke for ABC in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, calling on luminaries such as Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson and Seth Green to lend Hollywood star power to what is certainly the most glamorous documentary ever made about personal finance. 

Color Bravery

Throughout her stellar career, Hobson has been seen as a trailblazer for diversity in boardrooms, but progress in breaking down barriers for other black women has been slow; as of 2020 she was still the only black woman chair of a Standard and Poor 500 Company, and there are just two black women CEOs of Fortune 500 firms. Hobson has joked that “black women have it easier in business because they know how to identify discrimination immediately… White women aren’t told [about discrimination]. And then they get into the working world, and they’re like, ‘Oh my god, it’s not a fair fight.’ And we’re like, ‘We knew that!’” 

While Mellody would surely prefer not to be in a position where her race and gender were seen as noteworthy, she does not shy away from her role as a leader on these issues and gives highly influential talks where she shares her own experiences of discrimination in the world of business; in one notable anecdote she describes how she organized a fundraising lunch for her friend Harold Ford Jr. in support of his bid to become a Senator. Hobson and Ford - also an African American - arrived at the New York hotel hosting the lunch, and on checking in they were mistaken for waiters as part of the catering staff and asked where their uniforms were. Hobson uses this stark reminder of the everyday bias faced by black Americans to highlight the futility of corporate America passively describing itself as “color blind”, and instead calls for what she terms “color bravery”, an active and candid approach to identifying and discussing the problem of lack of diversity throughout society. Hobson herself is an ideal person to deliver this message, not just because of her tremendous success as an investor, business leader, and journalist, but because of her gift for communication; it is hard to imagine someone more active and candid than Mellody Hobson, the perfect True Superhero to deliver a message on bravery.

Read mORE

RELATED aRTICLES

Gadgets & Gifts

Put your spy skills to work with these fabulous choices from secret notepads & invisible inks to Hacker hoodies & high-tech handbags. We also have an exceptional range of rare spy books, including many signed first editions.

Shop Now

Your Spy SKILLS

We all have valuable spy skills - your mission is to discover yours. See if you have what it takes to be a secret agent, with our authentic spy skills evaluation* developed by a former Head of Training at British Intelligence. It's FREE so share & compare with friends now!

dISCOVER Your Spy SKILLS

* Find more information about the scientific methods behind the evaluation here.