Mellody Hobson was on stage and the audience was hanging on every word she spoke. “One of my missions is to make the stock market a topic of conversation at the dinner table in Black America,” declared the 36-year-old president of Ariel Capital Management LLC, the largest Black-owned mutual funds company. (Ariel manages assets of some $21 billion.) “My dream is to see Black grandmothers on the beach. Not one member of my family retired and went to Florida. We work until we die!”
It was the second and final day of the 2005 Black Church Means Business Conference at the New York Hilton and Towers Hotel. The brainchild of the Rev. Dennis A. Dillon, pastor of the nondenominational Brooklyn Christian Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant and publisher of the New York Christian Times, the annual conference, held in October, brings together Black churches for information-packed forums and workshops on business formation, growth and empowerment. The event includes a marketplace where mainly small-business vendors exhibit their goods and services.
Whether it’s building affordable housing, schools, nursing homes and senior centers or opening restaurants, car services and print shops, Black churches must play an entrepreneurial role in the economic development of the communities they serve, Dillon contends. “Even the little churches can take on a project. God’s Battalion of Prayer, a [Pentecostal] church in Flatbush, runs a bakery. Another church makes greeting cards. The opportunities are all over out there,” Dillon told the Daily News at the 2004 conference.
Hobson focused her remarks on investment in securities markets as a tool of generating the requisite capital for retirement, business ventures or even children’s education. Pointing out the differences between Black investors and their white counterparts, she said, “Blacks have less investment than but more life insurance than whites. We’re preparing for death rather than life,” she said.
Among other differences, Blacks invest in real estate as a safety net; whites invest in securities. While whites save for retirement; Blacks save for their children’s education with the expectation that when the children graduate they will pay back. That rarely happens, Hobson said. “It’s a donation. The money is never coming back. We take care of so many [family members] that we delay saving for retirement. I’d rather see college kids in debt because the 22-year-old can get out of debt,” she said.
Business owners must learn to pay themselves before all else, Hobson advised. “Pretend [that payment] is a bill,” she said.
Hobson followed an array of speakers from the religious, corporate and small-enterprise sectors, including Citibank, Golden Krust Bakery Inc., JP Morgan Chase, JerkQ’Zine, Macy’s and Wendy’s International.
“We would like to buy your products,” Ed Goldberg, Macy’s senior vice president, said. “Out of this audience has to be a future supplier to Macy’s, a future employee of Macy’s,” he said, noting that the retailer’s purchases from diverse suppliers had just reached the $500 million mark for the year.
Promotion is key to business success, Warren Bamholzer, retail manager at CBS’s 1010 WINS all-news radio station, told entrepreneurs: “Always look at how you promote your business,” he said. To mark its 40th anniversary, the station launched an initiative, Business Connect Network, that allows businesses of all sizes to tap into the 1010 WINS audience.
Vincent HoSang, CEO and president of Caribbean Food Delights, which operates the largest Caribbean frozen food plant in the country, announced that he is looking for franchisees for his new entity, JerkQ’Zine Caribbean Grille, launched in May.
“I ask myself what has made us grow so much. The answer is: by giving a quality product,” he told the audience. “You give a quality product, quality service, a fair price and you will always succeed in business. There is no magic. Common sense goes a long way,” he said.
Mellody Hobson’s Investment Picks
Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Capital Management LLC, advocates buying the stocks of “great businesses” and holding them. When it comes to stocks, “you can’t be a weathervane,” she says, referring to the practice of buy now/sell forward. “I want to get rich slowly. Slow and steady wins the race. That’s why the turtle is on Ariel’s logo,” she says. Among her favorite stocks:
• The Clorox Co. (NYSE: CLX). “People use bleach no matter what the economy does.”
• McCormick & Co. Inc. (NYSE: MKC). “We will always need spices for our food.”
• The J.M. Smucker Co. (NYSE: SJM). “You know your grandchildren will be eating jam.”
Among her favorite mutual funds, besides her own company’s funds, www.arielmutualfunds  .com are those of:
• LongLeaf Funds, www.longleafpartners.com 
• Oakmark Funds, www.oakmark.com 
• Artisan Funds, www.artisanfunds.com