Security in Knowledge

Systemic change can’t happen with a top-down approach, especially in corporate America. Creating a more inclusive and accountable business ecosystem starts with understanding the foundational issues at hand, says Mellody Hobson.

“You can’t hit a goal without a target,” says Hobson, the president and co-CEO of Ariel Investments who was recently named the chair of the board of Starbucks Corporation. “You have to know what you are trying to accomplish, and you have to understand what that really means on a measurable level.”

Hobson, who recently spoke during Greylock’s Iconversations virtual speaker series, shared her insights on what it will take for the demographics of the business world to represent the demographics of the actual world. Hobson, who is also a director at JPMorgan Chase, an active philanthropist and an ardent proponent of financial literacy, is the only Black woman to chair a Fortune 500 company. An outspoken champion for inclusivity, Hobson is the co-founder of the newly launched private asset management firm Ariel Alternatives, which will focus on scaling sustainable minority-owned businesses to serve as the suppliers to Fortune 500 companies.

During the conversation with Greylock general partner Reid Hoffman, Mellody described her lifelong passion for learning and hard work. Although her family at times struggled with financial instability, Mellody’s mother and older relatives were determined workers who consistently reinforced the values of education and accountability. She recognized that understanding the basics of any situation was the key to having control over it, particularly financial insecurity.

“It’s very unsettling when you don’t know what’s going on,” says Hobson. “That sense of insecurity drove me to the security of knowledge, and that’s how I became someone who is always solutions-oriented.”

Hobson applies the same approach in her mission to expand equal representation of women and people of color in educational and professional settings.

“If you understand something, then you won’t perpetuate the circumstances you are in,” she says.

You can listen to the conversation on the Greymatter podcast here.