One of the general sessions of NAPFA's annual conference was a session with John W. Rogers, Jr., chairman and founder of Ariel Investments. He was a fitting choice to address the topic as he's been held up as an example of diversity throughout much of his professional life. He related how his interest in investing began when his father started gifting him stock at the age of 12. As a teenager he'd hang around the office of his father's broker looking at the ticker tapes.
When he graduated from Princeton he was the first African-American broker hired by William Blair & Company. A few years later, at the age of 25 he decided he was better suited to be an investment manager than a broker and founded Ariel Capital Management, now the industry's largest minority-run mutual fund company.
In his talk to the assembled NAPFA advisors, Rogers stressed the importance of diversity, not just in terms of race or orientation, but diversity of thought. He pointed to his own company (see article on page 56) as an example of a firm comprising many different kinds of people that has prospered.
Rogers also talked about some of the diversity programs in which Ariel Investments participates. The most obvious, and this is something he noted most advisory firms can initiate, is an internship program. The best example of how such programs can benefit the industry within his own firm is the case of Mellody Hobson. Known to many Americans as a regular financial contributor to ABC's Good Morning America, Hobson first worked at Ariel as an undergraduate intern. She was hired there after graduation and today is the firm's president.
Another program which Rogers hopes is planting the seeds for future diversity in the industry is the Ariel Community Academy (ACA) which offers classes from kindergarten through eighth grade serving 440 students and their families and is considered on of the top elementary schools in Chicago. Ninety-eight percent of the student body is African-American and over 85% of the students receive subsidized lunches.
Besides a regular public school curriculum, ACA has incorporated concepts of investing and financial literacy into the classroom. Through a partnership with Nuveen Investments, the Ariel-Nuveen Investment Program awards each incoming first grade class a $20,000 grant. This money is designated to the class as a whole and follows the students until their graduation.