“We learned the ha...
“We learned the hard way through the financial crisis in 08 and 09 that we didn't perform well. We needed to be more diversified.
ROB: Welcome to Disruption Now. I’m your host and moderator, Rob Richardson. With me is John Rogers, who is the CEO of Ariel Investments, been around since 1983. He's been disrupting for a long time and really in Wall Street and making sure that Wall Street in the business of beauty is more inclusive in how it invest and making sure that actually living up to the statements that corporate America and others say that they believe in. He's been doing it for a long time before it was popular, before this recent year. He's been. I know that because I ran for office and it's something that he was committed to then. And it was a pleasure to get to know him then. And it's a pleasure to have him on the show. John Rogers, how are you doing today?
JOHN: I'm doing great. It's really great to be here.
ROB No, look, it is really great to have you on. I want to start with what I recently learned about your history with the Tulsa massacre, Black Wall Street and your and your grandfather really being a pioneer and not only being a business leader, but really a civil rights leader and really contributing to the Tulsa community and the challenges and obviously the things that happened there. You you you know, I'm more than just being black. Every black American that knows that knows our history is connected to black Wall Street in some way, because we understand the tragedy of what happened there and the fact that justice still really hasn't been done to this day. I would love to really just let us know about. But tell us the story about your grandfather, his involvement in Black Wall Street and how that really shaped who you are today.
JOHN Well, thanks for asking. It's an extraordinary history, I've been to Tulsa three times now and through the last year and a half to two years focused on the one hundredth anniversary of the Wraith massacre in Tulsa.My great grandfather, J.D. Stratford, was there during the boom years in Tulsa and built up the Stratford Hotel that became the largest black owned hotel in the country.
It was an extraordinary success in having the restaurants, bars, pool hall, all these amenities that made it a very, very special place. And he was also a leader in the black community there in Tulsa, not only politically and fighting the Jim Crow laws of the day and fighting for economic justice and fairness. He was also committed to doing business with other African-Americans in every way that he could and keeping the dollars within that black Wall Street community of Greenwood. So one of the things I know that as the years have gone on, I've learned to understand and it's so important for all of us to be looking out for each other when we have these leadership roles. And as the late Congressman John Lewis told us, we have a moral responsibility to speak up and speak out. So that was something that I think my great grandfather put into our family DNA. His son, KDB Stratford, was a pioneering lawyer here in Chicago, helped start our Black Bar Association, helped argue a case in the Supreme Court, a Hansbury versus Lee around the restrictive covenants here in Chicago.
My mom became the first black woman who graduated from University of Chicago Law School in 1946, and she often says she was inspired to go to law school because she saw her father take her grandfather's life. Because what happened was after the race massacre, the great grandfather, j.B Strafford, escape from Tulsa.
He had been in he was in the process of being indicted and being accused of helping to start the race riots, which, of course, was totally false. But he was accused because he was a leader in the community who was so outspoken and he made such a difference there. He escaped and went to Independence, Kansas, where he met up with the son of Stratford, who basically can use his legal skills to stop Tulsa from extraditing him back to Tulsa, or he possibly
could have been lynched in that day.
ROB So it was really guaranteed to be alleged to mean he's the leader. And yeah, I mean, it's that's that's really that's great that that that he was able to do that. Yeah.
JOHN So it was quite a story. And so I've been really fortunate to have a pioneering parents who are outspoken and committed to economic justice and fairness in our communities. And it's been a challenge from generation to generation. But I understand now through the stock that I come from,
ROB I have a couple of questions there. One, how did your grandfather pass on to your father to not basically just have trombonists? That's hard. No matter how you look at it, it's very difficult to go through what he went through. And a lot of us, I think, wanted to bury the pain and, you know, didn't really like to talk about the painful things that happened during Jim Crow and Jim Crow.
But it seems as if your your grandfather was able to take something constructive out of it and not only not forget about it, but pass it on to your to to his family and to his roots. So you guys would be inspired to do more and understand what happened and where you came from and what you could do. Do you know how he went through that process of like of not internalizing it, not becoming bitter? Because it's easy. It's easy to do. Like I'm not sure if I could do it. So I'm just wondering if you have any any any any sense on that or just anything you're going to share with us. Just learn from that. I think it's important.
JOHN Yeah, I do. My quick thoughts would be that my the Jamie Stratford, when he got to Chicago and never went back to Tulsa, he tried to replicate his success here, you know, by he hoped to build out a major, major hotel here in Chicago.
He got involved some real estate endeavors and other small retail endeavors, but he never remotely approached the success that he had had in Tulsa. And we think he was heartbroken. Do you imagine them building something that was the largest in the nation as a black owned hotel?
Have it totally destroyed overnight? You had no inkling that that was going to come or that was a possibility and to start all over in a new city. So it was crushing for him. But at the same time, you know, we were fortunate, you know, our family had education and we were committed to that. You know, my father, my grandfather, my great grandfather all went to Oberlin College. You know, my mom was University of Chicago Law School, as I mentioned earlier. So they were inspired to use their education to do really great things here in Chicago and nationally. So J.B. Strafford, Spirit kept our family going in the right direction. But I have to say personally, my understanding from reading some of these memoirs is that it was a really, really rough go for him trying to get started again.
ROB Look, I'm sure I'm sure it was. And I remember you talking about the. The land was valued at that time at two million dollars, and had he had he been able to maintain what he rightfully built? The projections are about 100 billion dollars that that that that would be worth at this time. So it's. But the fact that he was able to pass pass on his his the entrepreneurial spirit, his skill set is pretty amazing. So it's a testament to him.
It's a testament to all the things you've done as a family, because you're definitely living on his legacy. And I think it's important that people understand stories of resistance to as I'm going to move to a second part in a minute, but I would say that he was at the same time he was a businessman, but he was also an advocate. And and I think there's this narrative that you have to choose your lane if if you're going to be in business, that means you can't speak up for for for issues that you can't fight for justice. And and the fact that he he could combine both and that his story is told, I think it is very important. The stories of resistance and entrepreneurship are not separated.
The two are can and should be related. So I don't know if you have any final thoughts on that.
JOHN But I think he understood that entrepreneurship was vital to our community, that we were providing jobs for each other. We were we were we we were creating philanthropy in our communities, supporting our churches, creating political empowerment down the road and all those things. I think sometimes in modern day, we've lost sight of how important it is to have strong black businesses in our community.
ROB I completely agree. We have separate conversations as we were. We had to create more businesses and we have to do stuff politically and understanding that all these things are connected, you know, political activity, economic growth and really supporting each other. I think we I think we're getting it back. It's I think we're awakening to another type of consciousness. But we had that spirit more during black Wall Street. And I hope that, you know, from your story and others that we can learn and continue to grow. One of the things you talk about is why long term investors and corporate leaders should address economic inequality and improving diversity as a form of risk management in terms of their strategy and how they should look toward long term investment and doing that and why it's in their best interest long term.
Talk about the role there you see with Wall Street and investing and what role they can play and should play in closing the the the economic inequality gap in America, specifically with black Americans.
JOHN Well, you know, it's no secret today that our economy's moved on its last hundred years from kind of a construction, manufacturing based economy to professional services, technology and financial services community. So when you talk about Wall Street, is so much of wealth today is in Wall Street, the large private equity firms, the venture capital firms, the hedge funds, these guys are becoming billionaires and excluding us. It's just remarkable. You know, and and you see the big private equity firms control something over a million jobs. Think about all the contracts and board seats they also control. It's an ecosystem
that we've been pretty much locked out of. Now, after George Floyd, all of a sudden, a few doors are starting to get propped open and a couple of opportunities are coming our way. But it's just so unfortunate when you think about the most lucrative parts of our economy. Wall Street and Silicon Valley, broadly speaking, are the places where we are the least represented. And, you know, we just have to use our political power in our civil rights leaders who are working to expose this, because this just wrong is morally wrong. And they think things are OK. They think if they give us a donation that hires a few of us through an internship program and they support historically black colleges, they check the box.
All those things are important. But if they continue to spend all their money with white law firms and accounting firms and investment banking firms and money managers and tech firms and advertising agencies and all the rest.
We find that our wealth gap gets larger and larger and larger as those dollars get spent
with primarily white owned firms. And it's just that you can't square that circle. And we have to continue to remind these guys that you can't just buy us off, you know, with that donation. That's important. You also have to include us in your economic system.
ROB So how would you I mean, no, we can't solve this all today, but you're giving advice as just overall strategy for how we really put pressure on Wall Street. This is across the board, bipartisan, right. You got to you got to say you go to San Francisco, the most progressive place politically in the world, maybe. But you look at how the things you're talking about, how how the contracts are given out for investments, you will see no difference. Generally, I think I would say that's a pretty bold statement. I think it's pretty I think it's always very close to true. You won't see a much of a difference in terms of how they hire how they invest in the West Coast than you will in the south or anywhere else. I mean, they tend to is a closed loop, it seems to be in terms of getting in there, as you say. So what pressure can we put in? How should we put that pressure on for that to happen? Because lots of people have been looking at doing this for a while and we've made little dents and cracks, as you said.
But, you know, it's still the the glass wall ceiling, whatever you want to call it, still seems to be maintaining itself more and more over the not. So what do you think we can do as a strategy? What should we be doing individually to put pressure on?How can we do that?
JOHN Well,I think a couple of things. I think, you know, we need to continue to support our civil rights organizations. The Marc Morial of the Urban League, Reverend Jackson with push push, Reverend Sharpton with man. They deserve our dollars, our time. We have to be behind them. And Reverend Jackson work with black enterprise to take their data. And Silicon Valley that for the first time have African-Americans on corporate boards there. All of a sudden, Apple. James Bell and Hewlett-Packard had four directors on two companies that they had spun out some time ago. Now, all of a sudden, those doors opened up to those board seats because Reverend Jackson was in there pounding away. So we need to continue to support our civil rights organization, job one. Number two, we have to support a progressive congressional leaders. You know, the folks that are in Washington making a difference. Maxine Waters is terrific. You know, Joyce Beatty is fantastic. Hakeem Jeffries, you go down the list,
Robin Kelly here in Chicago, and you can name them all. But we need people like that, that when these CEOs come to Washington asking for support, they're going to be asked tough questions like how do you spend your money?I want to see transparency there. And we know that these dynamic women leaders that I mentioned are really making a difference. And of course, it's scheme has a potential someday to be speaker. He's fantastic. So I'm supporting these progressive political leaders and then the questions they need to ask. And one of the things I think all the recipients of federal dollars, all the recipients of the stimulus dollars and this new infrastructure bill should be held accountable to have transparency in how they spend their money. And if we open up all of this data, all of a sudden, all of America can see how they let the black and brown people primarily do the catering, the construction and the supply chain, the low margin,least wealth building parts of our economy and all the high margin wealth parts of the economy know really jobs were created today, are all still going to white on firms. We need that transparency. Yeah, and I think even Republicans can agree with transparency. We're not demanding a quota. We're just saying show us how these dollars are being spent if you're going to accept dollars from Washington.
It just seems that there should be a necessary regulatory thing that should be there. Just the same way, you have to be open and honest about how diverse your management team is and you and the folks that work in your organization, you're working with the government.
ROB Yeah. I mean, as I what I want to I want to get more to the point about how corporate America should be spending and really spend some time in that. But before I get there, really just pointing out, you know, something that Ariel has pointed out in his report that, you know, this is investing in diversity, like you said, is not a is the right thing to do, but it's also the economically advantageous thing to do, you know, long term. You've seen you outperform of most firms who are your peers, too. When you have diverse team, guess what? They have different perspectives and they bring more opportunities, more money.
Third, you know, the world is becoming is more diverse and the opportunity and growth is happening in diverse areas happening in Africa have happened in other countries. The growth areas, the growth opportunities are in these areas. So having people
that have a diverse perspective, it can help you penetrate that market. Seems like it would make sense for you to grow. So it's not just something like this is not charity. This is actually doing what's in the best interests for America and for long term growth.
So I think it's really important that we talk about closing closing the the the the gap. The wealth gap is in the best in. Everybody is in the best interest of white Americans, too. When you look at the south, the south with the gimped, with Jim Crow, it was there for years and Jim Crow was there. The South was depressed economically. And guess what? When that turned around and they didn't have Jim Crow as much, then you had the you had you had the South's turn around and create more opportunity.
For a long time they were trailing is because when you have an economy that doesn't provide as many opportunities for people, it provides less opportunities for everybody. So this is try to get people to see that this is not like a Zero-Sum game like this. If you invest in you invest in black founders, if you want to invest in black wealth managers, that's not taking away necessarily from others. It's expanding the pie and growing the pie. And we have to get that out there, because the frame is always
what you're doing this. And that means less is coming to me, which is actually never been shown to be true. So I just I think it's very important that you the Ariels, been focused on that. And I wanted to just make that final point before we move on to our next point. You talk about Ariel has had a lot of focus, less about really changing the narrative from supplier diversity to business diversity. And you talked about it a little bit earlier, but I want to deep dove into that a little bit more about why that terminology is important and what we should do to really guide the conversation now that we we have the attention.
I would say, of corporate America, white America in general, more than we ever have. I will say in my lifetime, at least we might have had it in the 60s during some point. But this I think the you know, George Floyd and just the protests and just the pandemic of the moment definitely, I think created a consciousness, among others, that we haven't seen and I haven't seen in my lifetime. And I want to talk about what we do with corporate America. You talk specifically about changing the narrative from supplier diversity to business diversity. Why is that important and what does that mean to you?
JOHN Well, I say that start off and say, you know, I think it's kind of like supplier diversity is kind of like blockbuster video compared to Netflix, you know, or BlackBerry versus the Apple iPhone. It's so out of date. Our economy, as I said earlier, has become a professional services, financial services and technology based economy. And actually, we have this data now. We came out from McKinsey and VCG in work that was done for our Chicago business leadership group, the Civic Committee, that says basically, if you look at the 14 sectors and how money is spent in Chicago and no one is professional and business services and 85 billion dollars in spend profit margin, five to 20 percent number for finance and insurance, basically seventy five billion dollars, similar profit margin. You go down to number 10 to get the construction, you know, roughly twenty five billion dollars a third. I mean, really a third of those other
categories and profit margins, zero two point five percent, very little profit margins.
So if you want to create wealth in our economy, you got to create it in the parts of the span where the wealth is created, where the margin is. And we just sort of fell into this trap that everything is around construction. And if you think about Chicago, we have our biggest buildings. You know, the Asian centers and insurance brokerage business, the Willis Tower, which was the Sears Tower, insurance and consulting, Hancock Building Insurance, JPMorgan Chase building banking. There's not a construction
or catering headquarters there. And if you look at the eighty four largest businesses in Chicago, none of them are in construction. They're all in these professional financial services, not all, but the majority of them are professional financial services. So that's why this term business diversity is greater, is a really great solution to this branding and communication issue. And the University of Chicago came up with this. They gone from zero. We're working with minority owned businesses 12 years ago to now work. Ninety five professional services and technology based businesses at the University of Chicago. And they coined the term business diversity to be able to signal to the marketplace that the University of Chicago was open for business in everything they do. We're all dollars that are spent. And we just think that that is what we have to do
if we want to really build wealth in our in our economy. So this term business diversity, I can't say how important it is starting to catch on around the country. It's starting to touch on here in Chicago in particular.
And I think Naughtier Quarrels works closely with President Bob Zimmer of the University of Chicago to draw drove this language change. That is really important. The other part of that is everyone talks about the importance of access to capital with University of Chicago is also proven is it's important to have access to customers, good access to capital, access to customers is really important.
ROB And that's a great point. And I tell people all the time that there is leads to more access to capital by biologic.
JOHN Exactly. You know, McDonald's, where I'm on the board, has done the best job on the generate couple of generations, actually meals for three generations of building multigenerational wealth by agreeing to work with black owned suppliers. Often they took a black leader from the corporate community like Mike Thompson, Bob Beavers, and put them in business first, partnering with the majority owned firm and eventually taking over ownership and leadership.
And once you had a contract to supply croutons or ice cream toppings or sausages to McDonald's, you had no trouble getting capital to build your business and grow your business.
JOHN You know, so there's these multigenerational wells being created by these large companies that are McDonald's suppliers, five of the top 20 companies in the black enterprise, top 100 list of McDonald's suppliers.
ROB Wow. You know, well, I mean, that's that's you really said a lot there. I have had some experience in politics. Obviously, I ran for mayor of the city, Cincinnati as well. And and I know a lot about the internal kind of supplier diversity. I'm going to call it a game. That's what it is. Most of it the game, most of it's a facade. And it does focus on construction a lot. And I think that's it's it's just a way of playing a shell game. And oftentimes, I don't know how it is in Chicago, but I can definitely speak for Cincinnati. Even these firms that get this work, they still don't get to the point where they have enough real access to customers, where they can bid on the work themselves as just the outright entity because they don't have enough capital customers, so on and so forth. So these things, do they will they end up doing is they get some subcontract with a contractor every now and then. Sometimes they just partner with somebody else and they're not really they don't really have a business that they've grown.
And so that game is continually played. So even in the even in that small, like you said, that you talk about the profit margin is already small in construction. It's when it's even smaller and smaller. When you look at, you know, African-Americans that are getting what piece they get, they get the point five piece of the 4.5 percent profit margin. So it's been it's been really, really low. We are looking at that.
And there's no even when they look at these big development project. Right, there's there's no conversation about who the architect. Right. Who's the who are the accountants on the job, even within the construction industry. When you talk about your jobs, like a lot of the opportunities come through professional services within the construction jobs.
But everybody likes to look at, OK, we hire. There's one contractor, we can point to our numbers and check a box versus actually doing something that's going to actually build and have to have a strategy that actually works. So I'm all for what you guys are saying, and I hope Cincinnati is listening. Frankly, the University of Cincinnati, I mean, all the all these institutions. I don't want to hear their diversity statements anymore.
Let me see what you note. Is this diversity. You don't have to tell me black lives matter, because I really I mean, OK, I really want to see what you do in your spin and what your policies are for your spin and show me something. I don't really care about their diversity statements and what.
That's my thing. I don't know. Maybe I'm off of that. What do you think?
JOHN No, you're exactly right. And the universities in our major cities are the worst actors, you know, here in Chicago University. Chicago is fantastic. But DePaul, Loyola, Rosevelt, Columbia, it basically only work with white firms for who manages their endowment and who does their legal work, who does their consulting, et cetera, et cetera, who does their advertising or public relations or government affairs. Vast majority of it is white owned businesses.
And we just sort of sat in these boardrooms and let us do this. So they let us serve on the boards for free. You know, to diversify their board and let us in the schools diversify the student body.
Then they when it comes to like who gets the economic opportunity that goes to the friends of the white trustees who understand how to work the system on their behalf.
ROB Well, they grandfathered in my you know, my mother, who owned several businesses and said this like, well, we have some grandfather clause in the ability in a way like, oh, you had to have worked with the this amount of X universities for this amount of years. And my mama, my mother says, would you say, well, my grandfather was in Jim Crow, my great grandfather was a slave, so I'm always going to be grandfathered out unless you guys. Right. Right. And that's what it is, right? Because they set up the. And I've done it. I've applied for most times a waste of time.
They have an ad agency as well as R.P. that if you set up for the RPI, you have to have already proven that you worked with this exact entity or an entity just like that for three or four years. And you generally don't have that opportunity.
So you can never prove that even if you work with similar clients or you are you are you showing that you have the ability. So you're right. It has to definitely be a reckoning at this moment. I really like as we as we talk about what's happening in this moment, we have to have I think Roland Martin said it's like a third reconstruction.
Have our approach be much more strategic, much more comprehensive, and not just settle for the corporate diversity statements or the somebody
somebody gets hired as DNI, I'm not doubting DNI and what they do. Diversity, inclusion. But generally they're not given any power to do anything. And so I don't really care if they haven't had a diversity inclusion. I care about what their numbers are spending. So we have to definitely change our expectations, change our narrative, as you said. And I. I love what Ariel is doing for that, and I definitely say keep that up.
JOHN Thank you. It's great talking with you.
ROB We have to talk about the fact when you took out Michael Jordan, Michael Jordan and one on one.
JOHN Oh, I had so much fun with this story. But, you know, it happened at his fantasy camp. He used to have what they call the senior flight school. And, you know, you go there and it's going to be 35 years and older. The greatest coaches in the country, you know, from John Thompson to Coach K to all the world class coaches. And you'd be on a team for four days and play for a championship at the camp.
The one day at the camp, he would challenge any camper to a short game of one on one. And the first seven years of the camp, no one ever beat him.
And so I decided I would try my last year at the camp. And he played about 15 campers that day. So I think he was kind of tired. And, you know, you never lost you let you make a basket or two that he would clamp down.
And, you know, he always won. So my old coach at Princeton, Pickerill, always said, you know, you're legally blind when it comes to passing, but you're a good one on one player. And so I just got very fortunate. I made a couple of my sort of shots that I have in my arsenal. And the fun part is that when the last shot goes in, you can hear Michael say, oh, no, I saw it, I want to play. I clearly said,
ROB oh, no, no, no.
JOHN It's been wonderful. Sports Illustrated's done a couple of features and we've had some good, good press and notice and people stopped me on the street. So you're that guy. You know,
ROB that is definitely a better clip. I've seen on YouTube that you became famous on YouTube by my son. Like, you know, this guy beat Michael Jordan to play. So I know. I don't know. I do. I didn't I did not know that you would have a one on one. I didn't know you could look like that.
JOHN I was you know, you get a break once in a while in life. And I understand I played them a hundred times. He would beat me one hundred next hundred or one hundred next times for sure.
ROB I need to be them once, though. You beat you beat Michael Jordan. You can use that for the rest of your life is something you could say. You definitely be by yourself. So I have a final question for you.
What I'd like to ask a couple of rapid fire questions I'm going to ask one for some of them are to actually ask most of them earlier. What advice would you give your younger self and what advice would you ignore?
JOHN Those was us think that has to adjust and to adjust to that coin, I think that in the beginning we've been in business 38 years, and I believe that focus, focus, focus will be the best small and mid-cap value. Money manager, mutual fund manager in the country. And you would perform well by being really, really focused.
We learn the hard way through the financial crisis in 08 and 09 when we didn't perform well. We needed to be more diversified. And so I do believe it's important to stay within your circle of competence. But I should have learned earlier how important it is to diversify around your core values and make sure that you don't have all your eggs in one basket, because it was pretty devastating during that last financial crisis and we almost didn't make it through. And so that's probably been the biggest lesson of what
I should have known earlier, is diversify and not believe in that concept, that that was that you should always be totally focused.
ROB Yeah. Final question. You have a committee of three that can be living. They can be dead to advise you on business strategy and life.
Who are the three people in life?
JOHN Wow. That's that's not a fair question.
ROB It never is. Yeah.
JOHN I mean, I you know, clearly I revere Dr. King and his leadership and his courage and fighting for us and sacrificing so much for us. And as I've gotten to know Andy Young and Reverend Jackson quite well and people who were so close to him and to see his commitment, I would love to have him as one of the three. That's that's that's for sure. Warren Buffet is the greatest investor of all time and.
You know, he's just someone who you could trigger an investment business. There's no doubt that people wondered, was Ron James better than Michael Jordan?
Maybe, maybe not. You know, I'm a Jordan fan, but there's no doubt that Warren Buffett is the greatest investor of all time. So I would look to him for leadership. Then finally, from a black entrepreneurship standpoint, here in Chicago, we had giants George Johnson with approaching ultrafine John Johnson with Ebony and Jet.
George Johnson's become my personal hero. You know, he had the first black owned company on the stock exchange, the American Stock Exchange. He created so much philanthropy for our community.
He helped start Soul Train, Don Cornelius. He started the largest black bank in the country, Independents Bank. He was the largest advertiser, in essence, when they desperately needed advertising. He was a one person ecosystem that brought wealth and opportunity to the black community and supported our causes in our civil rights leaders and political leaders. So my my my three would be Dr. King.
George Johnson from Johnson Products and Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway.
ROB Those would be the fruits of the good choices. Dan Rogers, CEO of Aperio Investments. Pleasure having you on to look forward to working with you more in the future.
JOHN Thank you. Anytime. Terrific interview.
ROB Yes. Thank you so much.