John Rogers: What we've tried to do at Ariel is several things, and from the beginning, being the first African American owned money manager and mutual fund company in the country's history, we felt a responsibility to push all the companies we invest in to be what I call 21st century companies. We tell them it's hard for us to buy stock in your company if your management team and board of directors looks like a 1940s company.
How are you going to compete in the 21st century as our country becomes more diverse and your customers become more diverse, etc.? So we can point to now over 50 times that we've been able to convince the company to have their first minority director in their history. From companies like Sotheby's to Jones Lang LaSalle—over 50 times. We’re quite proud of that, think that we—hopefully—we’re making a difference in that way.
Second way: We roughly 25 years ago, when former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was working here at Ariel overseeing our philanthropy, we created a small public school called the Ariel Community Academy. It has roughly 500 students in it, almost all African American, K through 8.
And we created a robust financial literacy curriculum for these young folks. We give them real money to invest in real stocks and have had them exposed to as much as possible. We've had everyone coming to visit them, from Magic Johnson to George Lucas and Joe Mansueto, the founder of Morningstar, to our state treasurer, etc., etc. We really think it's important.
We used to take them every year to the McDonald's annual meeting, where I'm on the board. And you take 40 or so young people and one of them gets to ask a question. And after the board, after the annual meeting, they would go and spend an hour with Don Thompson, when he was president and then CEO of McDonald's, and Andy McKenna, the chairman of the board.
And this is something we thought was important. Getting young people exposed to the stock market at an early age and giving them real money to invest. And many of those young people have worked at Ariel as summer interns and work full time at Ariel.
I spoke yesterday to a bunch of kids where one of our graduates had created an education business himself, called Rapunzl, which helps educate the next generation investors. So the Ariel Community Academy has been a been a big deal and it's sort of for us, and hopefully it's a model of the way the financial services companies can partner with urban public schools.
The third thing we've done to try to make a dent in the wealth gap that we're really proud of, is about 20 years ago, working with Charles Tribbett, who is a managing director, managing partner at Russell Reynolds. We created a conference for African Americans on corporate boards. And we bring in speakers, people you'd expect—Ken Chenault, Ursula Burns, Jamie Dimon, Jeff Immelt—everybody has come. President Obama has spoken there. It's been wonderful success.
We typically have 200 directors come together for three days. But the highlight of the conference is on Friday night. We have what we call the conscience of the conference, and it's been typically someone who had direct ties to Dr. King—Harry Belafonte, Andy Young, Reverend Jackson, the next generation of leaders, the late Congressman John Lewis, people like that—that can remind all of us that are fortunate enough to be in the boardroom that we have a responsibility to follow in John Lewis's footsteps and speak up, make a difference, make good trouble. And not be shy in the boardroom.
And we think that part of the reason we haven't progressed in corporate America around diversity and inclusion is too often the diverse directors in the room sometimes are not speaking out around these important issues and uncomfortable doing so.
We really think our conference is a way of trying to get people inspired to speak out and comfortable speaking out and help show them the way by having success stories of others who have made a difference in their leadership roles. So we kind of think that Black directors’ conference has been a kind of a big deal.