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Mellody Hobson's Formula for Success

By Casey Kelly-Barton - Jul 17, 2015 at 12:02PM

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Ariel Investments president and DreamWorks chairman focuses on value investing, financial education, and business diversity.

Mellody Hobson. Image: Ariel Investments.

Value investor Mellody Hobson has it all and then some. She's the president of Ariel Investments, which oversees an $11 billion portfolio, and she chairs the DreamWorks Animation (Nasdaq: DWA) board of directors. She's respected as a business person and as an agent for positive social change, and she's a media favorite who's been featured recently in the Time 100 and a profile in Vanity Fair. She and her husband, George Lucas, have a daughter who's about to turn three years old.

Hobson's background is unique in that although she was raised by a hardworking, self-employed mother, the family's financial state was often unstable. Perhaps because of that experience, Hobson is now a strong advocate for value investing, financial literacy, and the power of inclusion and diversity to help businesses thrive. Here are the lessons anyone can take from Hobson's approach to investing and business.

Long-term value investing matters
Hobson's approach to wealth-building is not new or glamorous, but it is effective: Seek companies with real value and invest for the long term. That's the approach taken by Ariel Investments, a company whose mascot is a turtle holding a trophy aloft. (In case you missed the message, the company's tag line is "Slow and steady wins the race.")

Hobson herself started investing in her early 20s and built a multimillion-dollar net worth long before she met and wed billionaire Lucas -- not bad for a woman whose childhood included more than one eviction when her mom couldn't pay the rent.

Financial literacy and self-education matter
The childhood experience of seeing her mother work hard and still struggle financially made a deep impression on Hobson. Today, she is a proponent of personal finance and investor education to help others make the most of the resources on hand, to open up the possibility of managing debt, planning for college, and saving for later years. Her recent articles for CBS News cover practical topics such as retirement planning and life insurance.

Hobson also urges people to ask questions. In her May 2015 commencement speech at the University of Southern California, Hobson told graduates that questions were the key to her early career growth. "If I didn't know how to do something, I'd ask to learn. Most people don't want to admit they don't know something. I do. All the time." That approach can work for anyone who wants to learn more about investing and personal finance.

Diversity matters in business and in investing
Hobson's already high profile rose even higher in 2014, when her TED talk, "Color blind or color brave?" urged listeners to create more diverse workplaces and communities, not only for the sake of a more inclusive society, but also to gain a better suite of problem-solving skills, creative input, and talent.

In her talk, Hobson cited the work of University of Michigan Center for the Study of Complex Systems director Scott Page. Page's research has shown that more diverse groups of people are better able to solve complicated problems, because they bring together a wider range of knowledge and experience.

That broader knowledge base makes companies more valuable, Hobson told her TED audience. "In my own industry, at Ariel Investments, we actually view our diversity as a competitive advantage, and that advantage can extend way beyond business."

Bringing together financial literacy, value investing, and business diversity
In her talk, Hobson made the point about the broad value of diversity with the example of the smallpox vaccine, which was developed not only with input from scientists, but also from dairy farmers whose firsthand experience made the vaccine possible -- a vaccine that saved millions of lives and helped eradicate the disease. Diversity can affect other change as well.

In seeking a more diverse and creatively robust workforce, companies can increase the career and financial inclusion of talent that might otherwise be overlooked. That inclusion, in turn, can expand the number of role models and evangelists for financial literacy and individual investment, when employees look to invest and protect their growing nest eggs.

Better problem solving, more value-oriented enterprises, and increased financial literacy sounds like the ultimate recipe for value. It's certainly worked well for Hobson.

Casey Kelly Barton has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends DreamWorks Animation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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