Mellody Hobson ’91 grew up in a household where there was often not enough money to pay the rent or make the car payment. She watched as her mother, a single parent to six children, bought Easter dresses for her daughters instead of paying the electric bill. “The consequences of that for me were quite devastating,” she recalls. “She thought she was doing the right thing, and to this day I believe her intent was right. She just didn’t have all the tools to make those decisions.” Understanding money “became something that gnawed at me. I wanted to have a different life.”
But Hobson’s mother, Dorothy Ashley, also showed her young daughter all the bills and had her calculate the tip when they ate at a restaurant. She went with her mother to paint and clean the rental units around Chicago that her mother owned and when she visited the bank to apply for a loan. (As a Black woman, her mother was often denied those loans.)
Hobson is grateful for those lessons. It bred her independence and ambition. In fifth grade, she found an orthodontist and went by herself to the appointment. When he told her that braces would cost $2,500, she said her family didn’t have that much money. He offered her a payment plan of $50 a month, which she brought home to her mother, who agreed to make the payments.
At 17, she met John W. Rogers Jr. ’80 at a Princeton recruiting event in Chicago. He brought her to Ariel as a summer intern. She interviewed with Wall Street firms as her Princeton graduation approached but decided to return to Ariel and has worked there ever since. (Hobson has been told she is the only member of the Class of 1991 who had the same work phone number since graduation.) Rogers “gave me such unfettered access to him,” she says, and she soaked up every lesson. She is proud that they have worked together for more than 30 years: “John and I have a special thing. People don’t stick like that.”
Her other partnership is with George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, whom she married in 2013. The couple give to many nonprofits through the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation, which donated a total of $54 million in 2021, according to tax records. In 2019, the pair were awarded the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy for their contributions to organizations involved in education, the arts, and culture, all aimed at countering socioeconomic disadvantage. The couple have signed the Giving Pledge, promising to give the majority of their wealth away.
Hobson is still known for her work ethic. When asked why she starts her day at 4:30 a.m., she offers a correction: “Technically it’s 4.” She adds, “I don’t work now for anything. I don’t work for recognition. I don’t work for money. I work for the satisfaction of helping grow our business and support the people of Ariel, and helping deliver for our clients, and hopefully doing my part to help make society better. All of which sounds so highfalutin, but it’s actually what I feel.”