Mothers, money and meaning: Mellody Hobson’s remarkable rise

By Thomson Reuters May 9, 2024 | 5:08 AM

By Chris Taylor

NEW YORK (Reuters) – What does Mother’s Day mean to you?

When financial literacy expert Mellody Hobson speaks about her mom, she tells a remarkable story about coping with severe money struggles as a young child.

Hobson, 55, may be best known as a money adviser on TV, but she is also a force in corporate boardrooms, joining Forbes’ list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women in 2020. She is president and co-CEO of money managers Ariel Investments, chairwoman of Starbucks, and a director of banking giant JPMorgan Chase.

She is also the wife of “Star Wars” creator George Lucas.

Hobson’s story begins in 1970s Chicago. Her single, no-nonsense mom Dorothy Ashley scrambled to raise six kids in the city’s tough South Side by renovating apartments and condos, with little Mellody in tow.

Sometimes those ventures worked. Often they did not, piling severe financial trauma onto Hobson, the youngest child.

“Our cars used to get repossessed, and we used to hide our car from the repo man,” she recalled. “We would get our lights turned off. There were times we got evicted, and all our possessions were put out on the street. It got very traumatic at times; not knowing where you’re going to live is a terrible thing.”

“I was ashamed and embarrassed for a very long time,” Hobson confessed. “And I had to hide it all. Our phone number was always changing, and I just didn’t think my friends would understand.”

Hobson’s mother was very open and blunt about money, showing her utility bills, having her calculate restaurant checks, telling her the amount of rent due.

“She didn’t shield anything from me at all,” Hobson said. “It created quite a bit of worry in me, but, at the same time, I became very aware: what everything cost, what our circumstances were. There was no sugar coating.”

The lack of money terrified Hobson and left a deep imprint of insecurities that she is still working to release. But it also gave her remarkable resilience. For example, desperate for an orthodontist in grade school, she found one and marched into his office and negotiated a payment plan for dental work.

With that pluck, Hobson got into Princeton University, secured an internship at Ariel under legendary founder John Rogers Jr., and ascended into some of America’s most rarefied boardrooms.

Hobson is passing on her late mother’s lessons. She makes her 10-year-old daughter Everest money conscious by showing her restaurant bills, having her guess costs at the cash register when they go shopping, and teaching her about credit cards and taxes.

Survival, however, is no longer at stake.

“Her circumstances are so different,” Hobson said. “I feel such anxiety and fear over money, and my daughter has never felt that. She doesn’t need that baggage; she’s not me.”

To teach the lessons early, Hobson has authored a children’s book on the subject, “Priceless Facts About Money,” coming out this fall from Candlewick Press.

The long voyage from having to heat water for baths on hot plates to becoming a national authority on finances could not have happened without her mom, Hobson acknowledged.

“My husband is very wise, and he said: ‘You know Mellody, your mom did the best she could, and by all measures you turned out great. So whatever you are carrying, forgive her.'”

Hobson now accepts her troubled past with gratitude.

“I wish I wouldn’t have felt all that anxiety,” she said. “But it made me accountable and responsible – and everything I am today.”

(Editing by Lauren Young and Richard Chang)