March 29, 2010
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Editor's Note: This is the first of six profiles of this year’s Outstanding Directors. The Outstanding Directors program, a sister program to Agenda, awards recognition to a select group of directors annually. These directors are nominated by fellow board members for making a valuable contribution to their boardrooms and are selected by the Outstanding Directors Editorial Board.
A turtle is an unlikely symbol for a company founded by a 24-year-old. Why not the early bird? Almost three decades after John Rogers launched Ariel Investments, however, the Chicago-based mutual fund firm’s slow and steady growth to more than 70 employees and $4.8 billion in assets under management has made its logo’s reference to the classic Aesop fable “The Tortoise and the Hare” look almost prescient.
As an investor, Rogers models his approach after the long-term, value-oriented strategy of famed investor Warren Buffett. As a director at McDonald’s, Aon and Exelon, the Ariel chairman and CEO is credited with bringing a similar perspective to the boardroom.
“John is a major talent and an asset for all of Aon,” says former Qwest Communications chairman and CEO Dick Notebaert, who serves alongside Rogers on the Aon board.
Much that Rogers has accomplished as a director — whether delving into the details of global compliance, fostering diversity or sharing his special insights into Wall Street and Washington — can be traced back to his lifelong love affair with investing.
When board colleagues want to know how a particular disclosure might play on Wall Street, Rogers provides an objective sounding board. “He sees things through the eyes of an investor,” says Notebaert. “His financial background is a major plus.”
Given Ariel’s value bent, the 2008 financial crisis hit its funds especially hard. True to the firm’s founding metaphor, though, the long-term results remain strong. Over the past 10 years, the fund has ranked sixth in its Morningstar category, and it has bounced back, with its performance over the past 12 months ranked number one.
That track record is not lost on people who work with Rogers. “He’s very bright, and everyone respects the business he has built,” says John Rowe, chairman and CEO of Exelon. “His experiences in the investment arena are totally relevant to us. His championing of diversity is very important to us.”