The Fruits of Discipline

John W. Rogers Jr. and Ariel Capital Management have harvested huge returns through a 'slow and steady' approach to asset management

Investment Officer Eric McKissack, and President Mellody Hobson, Rogers has guided the firm to initiate new-employee training measures and increase its visibility as an industry leader. Maintains Rogers: “I feel like we’re hitting on all cylinders.”

But now, with a bright — and favorable — spotlight turned on the firm, Rogers has some rather ambitious plans: to become a big fish in a big pond. “We want to build a national brand around Ariel Mutual Funds, where individual investors will think about Ariel first when it comes to investment choices such as IRA rollovers, money they put aside for their kids’ college tuition, or their first home,” he says. “We want people to have confidence that our brand will give them a high-quality product and good performance.”

Investors seem to be getting the message. Take the Appreciation Fund. Since 2000, it has doubled assets to roughly $1.3 billion. McKissack, who manages the fund, says Ariel’s overall increase in assets is due to investors’ willingness to shift money from one investment to another to maximize returns, as well as the media exposure about the fund’s stellar performance. Another big factor, he says, has been their relationships with “financial supermarkets” like Charles Schwab and Fidelity Mutual Funds. “Rather than us going out and selling individually, some of the money comes in directly through [Schwab and Fidelity],” explains McKissack. “When people go into their programs and pick funds that they want to invest in, they pick us.”

CAREFUL CULTIVATION OVER TIME
Putting together a firm that can take on the mutual fund giants and win isn’t easy. It has taken a significant amount of time and substantial effort to plant the right seeds. Rogers, McKissack, and Hobson share the major responsibilities of running the company. The triumvirate collaborates on long-term strategic initiatives and internal operations, as well as collectively promotes Ariel’s public face. Their marching orders are carried out by an experienced management team, most with eight years of experience or more at the firm. For instance, Ariel’s Vice President and Head Trader Cheryl A. Carrie has served eight years; Vice President and Chief Information Officer Roger P. Schmitt has been with the firm nine years.

Hobson, 33, the extrovert of the bunch, oversees the firm’s messaging and marketing, which she refers to as “the look and feel of Ariel.” It was her idea to push the symbol of the tortoise from Aesop’s fables and his mantra, “Slow and steady wins the race,” as a key part of Ariel’s branding. Working closely with Ariel’s marketing team, the Princeton graduate aims to build the Ariel brand by using a far-flung arsenal: investor education seminars, print advertising, and the highly regarded Ariel Mutual Funds/Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. Black Investor Survey, which tracks the investment patterns of African Americans and their white counterparts. Hobson, who regularly extols the virtues of long-term investing as a financial commentator on Good Morning America, says: “We want to build an institution that will outlive us and have a dramatic and meaningful impact on our community

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