Investment guru Mellody Hobson: Financial illiteracy is ‘dangerous’ for society

Personal finance

Investment expert Mellody Hobson is the epitome of the American Dream.

The youngest of six kids, she was raised by a single mother.

“We had a lot to overcome financially when I was a child,” she said in a recent interview with CNBC’s Wilfred Frost.

Her childhood included frequent evictions from their homes in Chicago and, at times, heating bath water on hot plates, Hobson once told Vanity Fair.

That only added to her drive to become a success. She attended Princeton University and then landed at the Chicago-based money-management firm Ariel Investments. She is now co-CEO and president of the firm, which managed $12.8 billion in assets as of Oct. 31.

I’d like to see great textbooks, great opportunities for kids to really understand the stock market investing.

Mellody Hobson

Ariel Investments

Hobson also sits on the boards of J.P. Morgan, Starbucks and video content company Quibi. Before that, she was chairman of the board of DreamWorks Animation. She left after it was sold to Comcast (the parent company of CNBC) in 2016.

“I worked really hard for those opportunities, but the stars had to align, as well, to create those opportunities for me,” she told CNBC.

That’s why Hobson makes it a priority to give back to others. One way she does that is by serving as chairwoman of the board for After School Matters, a nonprofit that provides Chicago teens with high-quality, out-of-school time programs.

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 25: Presenter, Mellody Hobson speaks at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) New York Symposium & Awards Luncheon at New York Hilton Midtown at New York Hilton Midtown on October 25, 2018 in New York City.

Michael Loccisano | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

She’s also a fierce champion of financial literacy.

“We’re behind the eight ball,” she said. “Having a financially illiterate society is dangerous, and we have to do something about that.”

One way to fix that is to teach money skills to kids in classrooms. That includes how to invest.

“I’d like to see great textbooks, great opportunities for kids to really understand stock market investing, because at the end of the day, they are going to be all they have in terms of creating a life for themselves, a retirement account, and things like that,” she said.

“It’s going to be hard to do that unless someone teaches us.”

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She’s not alone in advocating that schools educate kids about money. Yet only 19 states require high school students to take a personal finance class, according to the Council for Economic Education.

That lack of education is part of the reason money lessons aren’t passed on from parents to their children, Hobson said.

“If you ask parents in the U.S. where their comfort level is in speaking to their kids about hard issues, they rank sex and drugs over money — they have less comfort talking to their children about money than sex and drugs,” she said.

“That comes out of both our money fears as well as the fact that many of us don’t go to schools where money is taught or investing is taught.”

CHICAGO, IL – DECEMBER 06: Singer Bono and the chair of The Economic Club of Chicago Mellody Hobson during the Economic Club of Chicago Dinner Meeting at Hilton Chicago on December 6, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois.

Barry Brecheisen | WireImage | Getty Images

Hobson’s drive and determination has inspired the likes of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who told Vanity Fair that a comment Hobson once made inspired her to write her bestselling book, “Lean In.”

“She said she wanted to be unapologetically black and unapologetically a woman,” Sandberg told the magazine. “My life was altered by meeting her, and that’s not something I say lightly.

“She is such a big part of my path taken,” Sandberg added. “I think she does that for everyone.”

Hobson told CNBC she’s faced obstacles on her climb up the ladder, especially as a woman and a person of color. However, she said she is not a victim. Instead, she tries to be a victor.

“You have to decide how you’re going to show up in life,” she said. “I’ve used some of my differences as a way to stand out and to hopefully count and matter — and hopefully create an opportunity for others.”

Her advice to those who may want to follow in her footsteps: Be confident in your own ideas.

“Be brave,” she said. “Bravery is not the absence of fear, it is overcoming it.”

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