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Beating the Diversity Drum

Beating the Diversity Drum

Corporate executive and former Princeton University trustee Mellody Hobson is an example of someone having their feet planted in two worlds. She is president of Ariel Capital Management LLC, a mutual fund company that specializes in small- to medium-size companies and manages nearly $17 billion in assets. Hobson just completed her four-year term as a trustee. A 1991 Princeton alumna, she is a regular financial contributor to ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “World News Tonight.” Hobson speaks with Diverse about her role as a university trustee and how she tried to get the Ivy League institution to rethink some of the ways it has traditionally done business.

Mellody Hobson
President, Ariel Capital Management LLC
Education: B.A., Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson
School of International Relations and Public Policy, 1991

DI: What led up to you being on the board?

MH: Princeton approached me; you don’t lobby for these things.
DI: Why did you agree to sit on the board?

MH: I loved the school, and I felt an obligation to give back.

DI: What did you learn as a university trustee?

MH: These major universities are gigantic businesses. The only difference is they have more constituents than the average business; they have students, faculty and parents. In many situations, they’re doing federal research, so they have government involved. 

DI: What does your business expertise bring to the table?

MH: I was on the finance committee, and we did budgeting for the university and managed the endowment. I brought the basic dollars and cents to the university. I was on the university resource committee, because I raise money
for a living.

DI: In what ways are universities out of touch with the business world, and how could they do a better job?

MH: They’re absolutely in touch with the reality of the work place, so I nudged them on issues related to diversity in terms of inclusion of minority firms in doing business with the university. Until recently, no minority professional services firms did business with the large universities, from public relations to money managers to lawyers and accounting. We’ve never had any significant role, and that has to do with the fact that these relationships go back for so long. It’s an odd thing that there’s not this inclusion in the bastions of leadership. I beat a steady drumbeat and the president acknowledged that they had more work to do and they planned to do that.

DI: Does your company do any work for Princeton?

MH: I would never work for my university. That’s a conflict of interest. I joke, also, that you don’t want your university to fire you. But they could set the tone for other universities. The Ivy Leagues are leaders, so if they don’t, no one will.

DI: Kind of like how Harvard ended early admissions on the basis that it discriminated?

MH: See, that’s just it. We’re good enough to graduate, but not to work for these places? Harvard has a huge endowment, and they’ve never hired a minority money management firm. They’re working hard to do the right thing — the mission of the place is serving others. It’s not deliberate, it just doesn’t come to mind that this inclusion issue is equally important beyond student and faculty. You never hear that.

DI: What advice do you give to young Black women in their freshman year of college?

MH: My advice is for them to work extraordinarily hard and to help other people.

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