How long have you been in Chicago?
I have lived in Chicago almost all of my life—37 years with the exception of college. After graduating from Princeton University, I returned to Chicago to work at Ariel Capital Management, LLC. During my career, I have been fortunate to travel extensively, yet even after visiting many wonderful cities, I can say Chicago is still my favorite. People often refer to Chicago as “the second city,” but in my view it is second to none.
What is your favorite place to visit in Chicago?
I love to run along the lakefront early in the morning when the city is quiet. It is an ideal time to truly appreciate the city for its beauty and strength. I think anyone who has visited or lived here agrees the views along Chicago’s waterfront are breathtaking and the skyline inspires me. I particularly love jogging south along the lake, admiring the city’s incredible architecture and monuments like the Shedd Aquarium, The Field Museum or the new Millennium Park. They showcase Chicago’s civic patriotism and what is possible when people care about their community. Chicago has an incredible history of philanthropy—of giving back to our city, and the lakefront reminds me of Chicago’s roots and many accomplishments.
What area do you live in and what do you like most about it?
I live in Chicago’s Gold Coast on Michigan Avenue which is just blocks from some of the streets I grew up on. I picked the location because it is in the heart of the city and I love the energy, diversity and vitality of Michigan Avenue. I also picked this spot because it is where I learned to dream big dreams. When I was a little girl, we didn’t have a lot of money. Living in the Gold Coast was an enormous economic stretch for my mother—a single, working mom raising six children on her own. My mother believed that thoughts were things and she wanted to expose me to as much as possible. I certainly credit my mother for opening my eyes and inspiring me to dream as big as possible. When I moved back to Chicago after college, I picked the Gold Coast because so much is happening right outside my front door just waiting to be discovered.
When entertaining business associates, where do you go?
Chicago businesses are fortunate our city has so much to offer which makes it easy to entertain visitors and clients. Truly, there is something for everyone. At Ariel, we always enjoy taking clients to the United Center or Soldier Field. And being hometown to the World Series Champions, the Chicago White Sox—baseball games are always popular. Additionally, Ariel is a sponsor of Chicago’s newest sports team, the Chicago Sky in the Women’s National Basketball Association. Ariel has wonderful court side seats to these games which our clients have really enjoyed.
Chicago also offers world-class museums and culture such as the Shedd, The Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry which offers a variety of venues. Most recently, we hosted clients at the opening night gala of The Field Museum’s King Tutankhamun exhibit, a fascinating event. I also love the Symphony and Broadway in Chicago. We are lucky to attract so many incredible shows and have invited many clients and their guests to hits like Wicked, The Lion King as well as 700 Sundays. Ariel frequently takes guests to the CSO. For example, we have participated in Corporate Night which is a great way for us to involve our clients and employees in a very special evening of music while mingling with others in Chicago’s business community. We have sponsored a number of Wynton Marsalis jazz concerts over the years. Additionally, this year, we plan to be very involved with the new Harris Theater of Music and Dance at Millennium Park. So, we feel very fortunate to have such expansive array of choices to showcase Chicago hospitality.
What is the best thing about running a business in Chicago?
Chicago is a wonderful city to build a business because the city has fostered a very collaborative partnership between the private and public sectors, making it possible to get things done. Chicago has been very supportive of Ariel’s growth and outreach. We are grateful for the city’s support on many levels. For example, our firm supports a small Chicago Public School called Ariel Community Academy, which was a direct outgrowth of Mayor Daley’s Small School Initiative. Beyond the school’s standard elementary school education, Ariel has joined hands with Nuveen Investments to supplement traditional instruction with a robust investment curriculum to teach children the principles of financial literacy. The city has been a vocal advocate for Ariel in this endeavor.
In my view, business, government and civic leaders have a shared purpose and sense of vision. Because of this, the leadership across all facets of the city works together, makes decisions and moves forward. This successful collaboration dates back to Chicago’s founding with the World’s Fair of 1893, the 1909 Burnham plan which basically put Chicago on the map, to the recent completion of Millennium Park. In fact, the Economist, a global magazine, recently published a special report on Chicago, titled “A Success Story”—certainly a remarkable tribute to our city.
What needs improvement?
Even with so many successes, there is still so much that needs to be done. For me the obvious issue is the dramatic gap between the haves and have nots. In a nation of such incredible wealth, it is a tragedy so many people live in poverty. Ariel is committed to closing the wealth gap in our country through education and financial literacy. Unfortunately, Americans are facing a financial crisis, particularly in regards to retirement. With the demographics of an aging population, this is going to become even more and more of an issue over the next decade, ultimately affecting everyone. Too many people simply aren’t prepared for retirement and everyone will pay a price. This is why Ariel is so committed to financial literacy and education as well as our annual Black Investor Survey—we want to help close the wealth gap in this country.
How would you explain to your shareholders that Chicago is the best location for your company?
Chicago was the perfect place to start our firm because being a native Chicagoan; my business partner, John W. Rogers, Jr., had access to an invaluable network of supporters and mentors to tap into as he built the foundation for Ariel. Additionally, Chicago is incredibly supportive of business, particularly entrepreneurs. As an African American entrepreneur, Chicago had tremendous role models to observe and learn from. For example, the late John Johnson who founded Johnson Publishing and George Johnson of Johnson Products were important role models. Like John, they started their businesses very young and beyond their business goals, were committed to making a difference for Chicago and the African American community. Their business models and lives were incredible examples for Ariel to follow.
If money was no object, what would you do to spend a perfect Saturday downtown?
I’d get up very early and go for a long run by the lake. I always find being outside is a great time to be creative. Drinking in Chicago’s views lets my mind run too. I am always swimming with ideas and I love having a morning to be alone with my thoughts. Then I would head over to my favorite Starbucks on East Chestnut for a large cup of hot green tea. Instead of getting it to go, I would sink into one of their overstuffed chairs with a stack of newspapers. I love to really scour the papers and see what is happening in the world. Then I would probably sneak in a manicure before heading over to Ariel. Yes, I work on weekends. When you love what you do, it doesn’t seem like work. In fact, people ask me frequently about my work/life balance. I see life as a continuum, so I don’t try to compartmentalize my life into categories. I enjoy my work as much as I enjoy time outside of it. I think balance comes from enjoying the time you have. After getting things done at the office, I might have dinner at Gibson’s, one of my favorite restaurants. I love sharing a great meal and great conversation with close friends—simply connecting with people who mean a lot to me. Since I am describing a “perfect day” I would add a U2 concert at the United Center. I’m a big fan of Bono—who knows how to put on an amazing concert.
I want to touch on the point about money being no object. I definitely describe myself as a capitalist; in fact, I consider capitalism as a calling for me. But when I think about the perfect day, it has nothing to do with money. It is about enjoying each moment and the people who are in it. I want to live the depth of my life, not just its length. I am frequently asked about my views on money and I always say money matters, because it empowers people to focus on other things and hopefully lead more fulfilling lives.