John W. Rogers Jr., founder, chairman and owner of Ariel Investments L.L.C. in Chicago, one of the nation’s largest African American-owned asset management firms, is among the super-elite when it comes to helping people make the most of their money. Under the Princeton University alum and former stockbroker’s steely direction, Ariel Investments has grown into a financial services powerhouse that oversees more than $5.5 billion in assets for dozens of global and multinational clients, including McDonald’s Corp. and Exelon Corp. Last year, Black Enterprise named him one of the most powerful Blacks on Wall Street. Rogers, 54, is a former classmate and still a friend of First Lady Michelle Obama’s brother. President Barack Obama appointed him to the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability. Rogers was in New Brunswick, N.J., recently and sat down for a brief interview with TNJ contributing writer Glenn Townes.
TNJ: You were one of the country’s first Black money managers when you started Ariel in 1983. As a 24-year-old starting an asset management firm in an industry with few people of color, what was your motivation? What was your inspiration?
Rogers: My passion for investing started when I was 12 years old and my father bought me shares of stocks for every birthday and Christmas instead of toys. My mother and father each showed me the importance of saving, investing and managing money at an early age. It’s a strategy that I continue to share with my daughter and other young people that many of my colleagues and I mentor. For example, I worry that too few of our young citizens are aware of even the most basic money management issues — from saving to responsibly managing credit-card debt to buying an affordable home — [issues that] are absent from America’s classrooms. I think this lack of a financial curriculum is causing big problems. Financial literacy is a main component of Ariel Community Academy, a public charter school in Chicago that is supported by my company.
TNJ: Ariel emphasizes a slow-and-steady approach to investing. How is your approach to investing unique and please share how and why this laid-back, low-risk approach works?
Rogers: I emulate the investment style and strategy of Warren Buffett, the most successful investor in history and one of the wealthiest people in the world. Buffet once said, “The key to investing is not assessing how much an industry is going to affect society or how much it will grow, but rather determining the competitive advantage of any given company and the durability of that advantage.” I started Ariel with a focus on undervalued small and medium-sized companies. I have some stocks that have been in my portfolio since I started the company. A patient and disciplined approach to investing and being cautious is the cornerstone of any successful investor. It’s always essential to think long term and plan for the future. I tell everyone, “Slow and steady always wins the race!”
TNJ: The Census Bureau reported that the net wealth of white households is 20 times that of African-American households. What is the key to bridging the wealth gap in this country?
Rogers: Entrepreneurship is the answer to eliminating the wealth gap between the social and ethnic classes in this country. More people of color have to research and start their own businesses. It’s crucial for us to establish and leave a legacy for our children and provide positive examples for future generations of entrepreneurs.
For more advice on investing and money management issues from John W. Rogers Jr., please visit the Ariel Investments website at www.ariel-investments.com.