For John Rogers, becoming a highly acclaimed investment manager is the realization of an ambition carried since he was a teenager. He started his own investment management firm within a few years of graduating from college. His firm, Ariel Investments, managed $11.4 billion as of December 2020, and its mutual fund has earned investors a net annualized return of 10.75% from its inception through November 2020. 

Early Life and Education

Rogers grew up on Chicago’s South Side as the only child of John Rogers Sr. and Jewel Lafontant. Rogers Sr. flew more than 100 combat missions as a Tuskegee pilot in World War II and later became a Cook County judge. Rogers’ mother was one of the first African American women to graduate from the University of Chicago Law School and went on to become a prominent lawyer and a key figure in Republican politics. Rogers’ parents divorced when he was 3.

Rogers Jr. started learning about stocks and investing at the age of 12 when his father gave him shares of stock as birthday gifts. The dividend checks were mailed to him, and he studied the quarterly reports. When he was a young teenager, his father introduced him to his stockbroker, Stacy Adams, who was one of the first African American brokers in Chicago. Rogers spent his summers working with Adams and watching the ticker tape.

Rogers attended Princeton, where he studied economics and played basketball. His education furthered his interest in investment management, but his experience as the captain of the basketball team influenced the way he approaches his business. Shortly after graduating in 1980, Stacy Adams helped him get an interview with William Blair & Company for a stockbroker position. After two and a half years of experience in trading, mutual funds, and investment banking, Rogers struck out on his own to start Ariel Investments in 1983.

Success Story

Rogers started Ariel Investments against the advice of his mentors, including the former chairman of William Blair & Company, Ned Jannotta. But he followed his passion and turned $10,000 into more than a billion dollars in 20 years. He has never wavered from his most basic investment principles, which are encapsulated in his firm’s motto: “Slow and steady wins the race.” Rogers values patience as he looks for undervalued companies he believes will realize their full potentials over three, five, or seven years. He has been recognized as one of the best money managers of the modern era, alongside Warren Buffet and John Templeton.

Rogers is most proud of his accomplishments outside the investment arena. He has always been sought-after and active in public and academic services, having served on the board of numerous civic, educational, and arts organizations, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and the Oprah Winfrey Foundation.

Rogers has long advocated for greater diversity in upper-level corporate positions. He has devoted much of his time, money, and energy into improving financial literacy among inner-city minority youths. In 1996, he started the Ariel Community Academy, a public school focused on financial education. The school teaches students the fundamentals of finance and investing, even giving them an actual investment portfolio to manage. At the end of the school year, the profits generated from the portfolio are split between the school and the graduating students to use for their college education. The portfolio principle is given to the next group of first graders to manage through their eighth-grade graduation. The school consistently outperforms the city and the nation. Rogers views the pinnacle of his success as the time he hired one of the first graduates of the Academy out of the University of Chicago.

Top Quotes From John Rogers

On the important lessons he learned from his coach Peter Carril at Princeton:

“The first lesson was about teamwork and caring about your teammates first. He pounded it home and eventually it became such a freeing and fun way to play. There was a transformation. He no longer had to push the idea; the team fully embraced it. You're not thinking about who scores the points or who gets the credit; you're thinking instead about how you can help your teammate succeed on the court.” 

On how he has changed as a leader:

“I constantly make sure we’ve created an environment that encourages people on the team to really say what they think, to get their ideas out on the table and to give them the opportunity to argue those perspectives and make sure they’re not holding them inside and going home and talking to their family about the idea. That’s something I’m constantly working at; how can I create that environment, how can I ask the right questions, how do I go around and make sure people tell you what they really think? That takes patience, but it’s the right thing to do.”