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Retailers Rejected This ‘Taboo’ Product — Now It’s Worth Millions

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What do you think about a pubic haircare brand?


Courtesy of Fur

That was the question Fur co-founders Laura Schubert and Lillian Tung were asking back in 2015, as part of the qualitative research the duo conducted on family, friends — even strangers at cocktail parties.

Schubert and Tung were on the cusp of launching an innovative body-care brand at the time, but it meant taking a big chance.

Both Harvard grads who’d been friends since seventh grade, the soon-to-be co-founders had already established themselves in the corporate world. Schubert was a management consultant at Bain and Company, while Tung oversaw marketing at Maybelline — and was “super jaded” by the increasingly crowded beauty space.

Still, Schubert was ready to tackle the then-untouched pubic haircare market, and after some persistence, she convinced Tung to join her. Now, their natural body-care collection is a major hit, including the Fur Oil that started it all: “gentle enough for pubic hair and skin, but effective from head to toe,” which retails for $52 per bottle.

Entrepreneur sat down with Schubert and Tung to learn about the mission behind their “taboo” beauty line and how they transformed it from an idea to a cult favorite that counts actress Emma Watson among its many fans.

Related: 100 Things You Need to Know to Succeed in the Modern Beauty Industry

“[Pubic hair] was a taboo topic that people didn’t feel comfortable talking about.”

It all started in 2014 when Schubert asked her sister and friends what they were doing in terms of body hair care.

“I was getting waxed religiously at the time,” Schubert recalls, “and just thinking about, What do I want to wax? How do I want to wax? What do I do between sessions? I get terrible ingrowns — what are people doing about that?

The information available on the subject was scarce, and when Schubert searched for products that might help solve her problems, she came up empty-handed. Ultimately, she concluded that some serious stigma was at the root of the issue.

“[Pubic hair] was a taboo topic that people didn’t feel comfortable talking about,” Schubert says — and she wanted to change that.

“We all grow body hair,” she says. “We all choose to groom or not groom our body hair. And I just really got the feeling that people would want products like this.”

There was only one choice when it came to body hair maintenance, Tung adds: removal.

Schubert wanted to partner with Tung on the venture, so she got creative at her holiday party in 2014. She handed Tung the still-unnamed blue bottle of formula that would become the company’s groundbreaking oil, poured her a “really stiff drink” and asked her to give it a try.

Tung, a lover of product formulas and development, was immediately impressed by the oil, which counts grape seed, jojoba, clary sage and tea tree oils among its key ingredients.

“I tried the formula, and I thought it was amazing,” Tung recalls. “It did what it [was supposed to do] on the pubic hair area: softens your hair, makes your skin better, but also it’s just an amazing experience. And that was when I was like, Well, this could have legs.”

Image credit: Courtesy of Fur

Related: The Future of Innovation in the Beauty Industry

“Either people immediately got it…Or people would be like, ‘That’s disgusting. I didn’t think women had body hair anymore.'”

When Tung joined Schubert in the qualitative research process, asking a range of would-be consumers what they thought about a pubic haircare brand, she saw two camps emerge.

“Either people immediately got it and loved it and said, ‘Wow, I can’t believe we never thought about this. I can’t believe a product like this doesn’t exist — that’s brilliant,'” Tung explains. “Or people would be like, ‘That’s disgusting. I didn’t think women had body hair anymore. Why would you do that? That’s gross.'”

But from a marketing perspective, the polarized response intrigued Tung, who says that “strong reactions, positive or negative, mean that there’s something memorable — something for you to hang your hat on in terms of messaging.”

That gives someone having an initially negative reaction to the idea the chance to engage with the conversation and potentially become open to it.

“It allows them to at least think about it, and if they’re thinking about it, you can encourage them to talk about it,” Tung says. “If you can encourage people to talk about it and keep it a comfortable, safe space, people can express a variety of opinions and have the opportunity to change their minds, including myself.”

When Schubert served as the brand’s “first salesperson” and took the product into stores, she often faced similar resistance. She recalls being kicked out for solicitation and told to go on Shark Tank (and they did in 2020, even striking an on-air deal with Lori Greiner).

And even those who did express interest in the product had reservations about leaning into Fur’s unapologetically authentic branding: One major retailer loved everything about the oil but just didn’t think having the word “pubic” on the box would resonate with its customers.

“We went pretty far down that path of evaluating,” Tung recalls, “Is pubic really a dirty word? Should we be removing it from our branding? But of course we knew we had to stay true to what we wanted to do and where we came from.”

As co-founders who’d built their business from scratch and are still self-funded, turning down the request was tough — but essential.

“It was a really big relationship,” Schubert says. “But we knew, being a mission-based brand, that that was something that we could never do. And so to this day, ‘pubic’ is on the front of the Fur Oil box. It will always be on the front of the Fur Oil box because this is what we’re here to do: to encourage conversations around pubic hair and body hair.”

Image credit: Courtesy of Fur

Related: Why You Should Do Everything You Can to Self-Fund Your Business

“As a mission-based brand looking to destigmatize the taboo around body hair, it’s so important to be in places where everybody is thinking and shopping.”

Fur’s dedication to its original mission continues to pay off big-time, attracting an enthusiastic fanbase that includes Hollywood A-listers like Emma Watson.

It was 2017 when Fur’s website started “going crazy;” the co-founders discovered Watson’s Into the Gloss interview, where the actress and activist shared that Fur Oil is an essential part of her beauty routine.

“She really understood our product,” Schubert says, “and we sold out of two years’ worth of product in three weeks. That was definitely a moment that put our brand very much on the map.”

In the years since, Fur has stayed on the map (and expanded its territory) by rising to meet unforeseen challenges as they come up, especially as they pertain to growth and scale.

Despite being “thrown for a loop” during Covid as many brands were, navigating changes in the market, digital platforms and, of course, the supply chain, Fur weathered the storm — and even thrived.

The brand has quintupled its staff over the course of the pandemic and is on track to see more than $20 million in revenue this year.

Part of the secret to Fur’s success lies in its prioritization of omnichannel growth.

“It’s so important to be in places where everybody is thinking and shopping and has the ability to get to it,” Tung explains. “And if you were to look at our revenue breakdown, we’re very evenly split across all of our partnerships and our channels — that’s so important because in this day and age, people shop everywhere all the time.”

Naturally, a lot has changed in the near-decade since Schubert first set out to solve the pubic problem no one was talking about, but when it comes to founders who might have an idea today (taboo or not), some lessons learned remain just as relevant.

First, don’t wait to figure out the whole path, Tung suggests — just get started.

And Schubert’s best piece of advice? (Also the very reason Fur exists.) “Every ‘no’ is a ‘not yet.'”

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1 Airline Stock to Buy Right Now and 1 to Continue to Avoid

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The airline industry is anticipated to remain upbeat and post a profit this year due to improved demand. Therefore, quality stock Copa Holdings (CPA) might be a solid buy right now. However, Virgin Galactic Holdings (SPCE) might be best avoided, given its weak fundamentals. Read on….

Amid the pandemic-induced domestic and international air travel restrictions, the aviation industry suffered. However, the industry has witnessed significant improvements recently and is poised to remain resilient in the foreseeable future.

Although recession fears have sparked concerns about consumer spending, airline executives remain optimistic about travel demand which is not likely to wane any time soon. In 2023, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) anticipates the airline industry to tip into profitability and garner a global net profit of $4.70 billion.

Moreover, passengers are taking advantage of the return of their freedom to travel. A recent IATA poll of travelers across 11 global markets revealed that nearly 70% are traveling as much or more than they did prior to the pandemic. And, while the economic situation concerns 85% of travelers, 57% have no intention to curb their travel habits.

Furthermore, since people’s preference for air travel is rising, the need for low-cost services is also increasing. The global low-cost airlines market is projected to reach $302.85 billion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 9.9% from 2022 to 2030.

Given this backdrop, fundamentally strong airline stock Copa Holdings, S.A. (CPA) might be a solid buy now. However, Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (SPCE) might be best avoided due to its weak fundamentals.

Stock to Buy:

Copa Holdings, S.A. (CPA)

Based in Panama City, Panama, CPA provides airline passenger and cargo services. The company offers approximately 204 daily scheduled flights to 69 destinations from its Panama City hub to 29 countries in North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean.

In terms of forward EV/Sales, SPCE is trading at 1.49x, 14.3% lower than the industry average of 1.74x. Also, its forward EV/EBITDA multiple of 6.45 is 40.9% lower than the industry average of 10.92.

The stock’s trailing 12-month net income margin of 14.27% is 115.1% higher than the 6.63% industry average. Also, the stock’s trailing-12-month ROCE of 28.97% is 103.5% higher than the 14.24% industry average.

CPA’s total operating revenue in the third quarter that ended September 30, 2022, increased 16.7% from the prior quarter (ended June 30, 2022) to $809.45 million. Its adjusted net profit rose 773.8% sequentially to $115.06 million, while its adjusted earnings per share increased 809.4% from the prior quarter to $2.91.

Street EPS estimate of $2.60 for the fiscal first quarter ending March 2023 reflects a rise of 271.8% year-over-year. Its revenue estimate for the same quarter of $855.89 million indicates an improvement of 49.7% from the prior-year quarter. Additionally, the company topped consensus EPS estimates in each of the trailing four quarters.

Over the past six months, the stock has gained 37%, closing the last trading session at $92.08. It has gained 22.4% over the past three months.

This promising prospect is reflected in its POWR Ratings. The stock has an overall B rating, equating to Buy in our proprietary rating system. The POWR Ratings assess stocks by 118 different factors, each with its own weighting.

CPA has an A grade for Quality and a B grade for Growth. Out of 31 stocks in the Airlines industry, it is ranked #7.

Beyond what we’ve stated above, we have also given CPA grades for Value, Momentum, Stability, and Sentiment. Get all CPA ratings here.

Stock to Avoid:

Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (SPCE)

SPCE is an integrated aerospace company that develops human spaceflight for private individuals and researchers in the United States. It also manufactures air and space vehicles. In addition, it designs, develops, and manufactures spacecraft and engages in ground and flight testing and post-flight maintenance of spaceflight vehicles.

In terms of forward EV/Sales, SPCE is trading at 521.12x, significantly higher than the industry average of 1.74x. Also, its forward Price/Sales multiple of 871.86 is significantly higher than the industry average of 1.35.

The stock’s trailing-12-month ROCE of negative 54.33% compares to the industry average of 14.24%. Its trailing-12-month ROTA of negative 34.16% compares to the industry average of 5.21%.

SPCE’s revenue declined 70.3% year-over-year to $767 thousand in the third quarter that ended September 30, 2022. Its operating loss and net loss widened by 75.2% and 200.9% from the year-ago values to $145.56 million and $145.55 million, respectively.

The company’s net loss per share amounted to $0.55, widening 71.9% from the same quarter the prior year. Also, its adjusted EBITDA loss increased 89.8% year-over-year to $128.52 million for the same period.

Street expects SPCE’s revenue to be $666.67 thousand in the fiscal first quarter ending March 2023. Its EPS is expected to decline 47.2% to negative $0.53 for the same quarter. It failed to surpass the EPS estimates in three of the trailing four quarters.

Shares of SPCE have declined 25.8% over the past six months to close the last trading session at $5.52.

SPCE’s POWR Ratings reflect its poor prospects. The company has an overall rating of F, equating to a Strong Sell in our proprietary rating system.

It has an F grade for Value, Stability, and Sentiment and a D for Growth and Quality. Within the same industry, it is ranked last.

Click here to see SPCE’s rating for Momentum.

Consider This Before Placing Your Next Trade…

We are still in the midst of a bear market.

Yes, some special stocks may go up. But most will tumble as the bear market claws ever lower.

That is why you need to discover the brand new “Stock Trading Plan for 2023” created by 40-year investment veteran Steve Reitmeister. There he explains:

  • Why it’s still a bear market
  • How low stocks will go
  • 9 simple trades to profit on the way down
  • Bonus: 2 trades with 100%+ upside when the bull market returns

You owe it to yourself to watch this timely presentation before placing your next trade.

Stock Trading Plan for 2023 >


CPA shares were unchanged in premarket trading Wednesday. Year-to-date, CPA has gained 10.71%, versus a 6.29% rise in the benchmark S&P 500 index during the same period.


About the Author: Sristi Suman Jayaswal

The stock market dynamics sparked Sristi’s interest during her school days, which led her to become a financial journalist. Investing in undervalued stocks with solid long-term growth prospects is her preferred strategy.Having earned a master’s degree in Accounting and Finance, Sristi hopes to deepen her investment research experience and better guide investors.

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Why the Bear Market Might End on 2/1?

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The stock market (SPY) is at a fork in the road coming into the 2/1 Fed announcement at 2pm ET. However, in this case there are 4 different directions stocks could head from here and thus 4 trading plans you should be aware of now. 40 year investment pro Steve Reitmeister spells it all out in his timely commentary below.

January has been quite bullish. Not just the solid overall gains for stocks, but the very Risk On nature of the groups that outperformed.

At this stage investors are holding their breath waiting for the next Fed announcement on Wednesday 2/1 @ 2pm ET. Anything is possible including a softening of their hawkish stance that would give bulls a green light to keep running ahead.

Just as likely is the Fed doubling down on their previous statements that would have stocks tumbling lower once again.

Indeed, a lot hangs on Wednesday’s announcement. So, let’s discuss how each possible outcome would alter our trading plans.

Market Commentary

I see 4 possible scenarios after this very crucial Fed announcement on February 1. Let’s review each and how it would affect our trading plans to carve out profits from the stock market.

Scenario 1: Raging Bull (the Bear is Dead!)

In this scenario the Fed makes a clear and evident pivot in their rate hike regime. Meaning that they see inflation coming down faster than expected and will not have to keep rates high through the end of the year as previously stated.

This unexpected dovish tilt will delight investors as it greatly increases the odds of a soft landing for the economy with stocks raging higher. This should compel investors to abandon their bear market outlook quickly and switch to more Risk On selections that would outperform in a new bull market.

Or simply, sell everything that did well in 2022 and buy the investments that did poorly last year with emphasis on growth over value.

Note that I think the odds of the Fed pivoting so obviously at this stage is incredibly low. The next section is the more probable bullish possibility.

Scenario 2: Cautious Bull

Here we get more subtle hints from the Fed of a potential future pivot in policy. Like they are encouraged by moderating inflation…and will keep rates higher for longer to make sure that rating inflation is good and dead…but just maybe they won’t have to do it for as long as previously stated.

This would increase the current bullish bias in the market. However, the total upside would be more limited as investors would still be too worried about the next Fed statement. And will also be very cautious as they view economic data which is tilting more and more towards recession.

In this case, I would recommend being moderately bullish. Whereas Scenario 1 would compel investors getting back to 100% long…this would be more like 50% long the stock market. And yes, that should be with the same kind of Risk On selections noted above. Just a smaller allocation with ample cash on hand.

Note that this scenario still leaves open the chance that the Fed stays hawkish too long and we still tip over into recession with bear market coming back on the scene. That explains why only 50% long as downside risks still exist.

Scenario 3: Bear Returns with a Vengeance

The Fed has proactively talked down bulls at 2 previous junctures putting an end to premature rallies. I am referring to the famed Jackson Hole speech in August where Powell scared everyone senseless ending the 18% summer rally with new lows in the offing.

A more subtle version of this happened at the beginning of December where he reiterated the “higher rates for longer” mantra more times than I can count. Plus it was clear that they would rather risk recession than leaving any flames of inflation in the economy as that is the greater long term evil.

So if Powell gets back on the “bully pulpit“, or in any way implies that bulls are WAY ahead of themselves, then the bear market comes back with a vengeance. That’s because the longer the Fed stays hawkish…the higher the odds a hard landing (recession) for the economy.

In this case, stay bearish and stick with the 2022 bear market playbook with inverse ETFs and conservative stocks to squeeze out profits as the market heads lower.

Scenario 4: Dazed & Confused

This is where the Fed gives mixed signals. Still hawkish for a long time to save face given previous statements. And yet do tip their hat a little to moderating inflation.

This gray area leads to a trading range until investors have more facts in hand. I suspect that 4,000 is the low end with 4,200 at the high end. This comes hand in hand with a ton of volatility as each new headline has investors recalibrate the bull/bear odds.

This trading range evolves into 1 of the 3 other scenarios in the future depending on future Fed statements and health of the economy. The more you think it will become like scenario 1 or 2 means you tilt more bullish on your trading strategy. And if you still believe that the bearish scenario 3 is where we end up…then you play the trading range with the same degree of caution.

Conclusion

Yes, there is a lot riding on the Fed statement. I am prepared for any of these scenarios to play out with 2 and 3 being the most likely followed by 4.

No doubt you are thinking to yourself “isn’t there an easier way to invest in the stock market?”

Unfortunately not.

The future outlook for the economy, and thus stock prices, is never 100% certain. And thus it is MOST confusing at the 180 degree turns from bearish to bullish or vice versa.

Once we make that big turn, then we get on to the straightaway. Once there the outlook becomes clearer allowing us to enact plans with a greater degree of certainty.

I will of course dissect every word of the Fed announcement to determine which scenario we are in with appropriate change in trading strategy to quickly follow.

Hold onto the steering wheel tight and be ready for anything!

What To Do Next?

Watch my brand new presentation: “Stock Trading Plan for 2023” covering:

  • Why 2023 is a “Jekyll & Hyde” year for stocks
  • Why the Bear Market Could Come Back
  • 9 Trades to Profit Now
  • 2 Trades with 100%+ Upside Potential as New Bull Emerges
  • And Much More!

Watch “Stock Trading Plan for 2023” Now >

Wishing you a world of investment success!

Steve Reitmeister…but everyone calls me Reity (pronounced “Righty”)
CEO, StockNews.com and Editor, Reitmeister Total Return


SPY shares fell $0.47 (-0.12%) in after-hours trading Tuesday. Year-to-date, SPY has gained 6.29%, versus a % rise in the benchmark S&P 500 index during the same period.


About the Author: Steve Reitmeister

Steve is better known to the StockNews audience as “Reity”. Not only is he the CEO of the firm, but he also shares his 40 years of investment experience in the Reitmeister Total Return portfolio. Learn more about Reity’s background, along with links to his most recent articles and stock picks.

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Wall Street’s Most Connected Black Woman Has An Ingenious Idea To Narrow The Wealth Gap

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This story appears in the December/January 2023 issue of Forbes Magazine. Subscribe

To boost more talented minority executives into the corporate stratosphere, Ariel Investments’ Mellody Hobson wants to install them at the top of existing businesses—and connect them with the customers and capital to succeed.

Asa sixth grader in Chicago public schools in 1980, Mellody Hobson was mortified by the snaggletooth that protruded when she smiled. It simply didn’t fit the future she envisioned for herself.

She asked her friends who wore braces for the name of their orthodontist, and without her mother knowing, made an appointment, walking from school to his office. He said she’d have to wear braces for years and that it would cost $2,500—a monumental sum for Hobson’s struggling single mother, who was raising her and her five siblings in a home where money was so tight the electricity was periodically shut off because of unpaid bills. No matter. That tooth was going to be fixed: Hobson and the orthodontist agreed to a payment plan of about $50 per month.

In eighth grade, determined to go to one of Chicago’s best private high schools, she asked friends where they were applying, called the schools and arranged to tour them with her mother in tow. She wound up at St. Ignatius College Prep on a scholarship.

In 2020, in the wake of the nationwide George Floyd protests, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon wanted to aid Black businesses. He called Hobson, by then a JPMorgan board member, hoping to tap into that same sheer force of will. “I said, ‘We really need a sustainable investment effort—totally for-profit—to invest in minority companies,’ ” Dimon recalls. He told her he wanted Ariel Investments, where Hobson is co-CEO and president, involved, then rattled off other minority-owned businesses as potential partners.

Hobson was characteristically blunt but upbeat. “I said to him, ‘Jamie, [some of] these companies are gone,’ which he did not know. ‘But I think I have an idea.’ ” She drafted a four-page memo outlining “Project Black” and emailed it to Dimon on September 8, a week after his initial call.

The idea: Ariel would form a private equity fund to invest in middle-market companies and provide them the capital—and, more crucially, the contacts—needed to sell to large corporations eager to diversify their supply chains. Dimon was sold instantly. “When people talk about Black businesses, they talk about access to capital, access to capital, access to capital,” Hobson says. “Access to customers may be more important.” Currently, a meager 2% of corporate spending goes to minority-owned suppliers.

There’s another conventional wisdom–busting aspect of this strategy. Black entrepreneurs start lots of businesses, but very few grow large enough to become suppliers to the Walmarts of the world; of the 500 or so private companies in the U.S. with more than $1 billion a year in sales, just five are Black-owned.

Project Black aims to leapfrog the size barrier by acquiring companies with $100 million to $1 billion in sales and, if they’re not already minority-run, installing Black and Latino executives to manage them—“minoritizing” the companies, as Hobson puts it. These firms should then be well positioned to acquire smaller minority-owned enterprises and grow into competitive top-tier suppliers—satisfying big companies’ supply chain needs and diversity goals at the same time.

Hobson “is as comfortable with a part-time barista as she is with any high-profile person,” says Starbucks’ Howard Schultz. 


On February 1, Ariel closed its first Project Black fund with $1.45 billion in commitments from AmerisourceBergen, Amgen, Lowe’s, Merck, Next-Era, Nuveen, Salesforce, Synchrony, Truist, Walmart, the Qatar Investment Authority, Hobson’s family foundation and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who put $200 million in. That’s all on top of an up to $200 million pledge that JPMorgan made in 2021 to get the ball rolling.

That $1.45 billion is more than five times the size of the average first-time private equity fund and brings assets under management at Ariel, including its mutual funds and separately managed accounts, above $16 billion. Forbes figures Hobson’s nearly 40% stake in what is the nation’s oldest (founded 1983) Black-owned investment shop is worth $100 million. (John W. Rogers Jr., the founder, chairman and co-CEO, owns 34%.)

Like so much else the 53-year-old Hobson has done during her one-of-a-kind career, the Project Black memo was neither off-the-cuff nor a solo production. Instead, it was built on years of relentless hard work, analysis and networking. After the May 2020 murder of Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman, Hobson organized Sunday Zoom calls with a cadre of top Black business executives to brainstorm ways that capitalists could narrow the racial wealth gap—and make a profit. “I said, ‘This hasn’t been done before.’ ”

One Zoom regular was Leslie A. Brun, the 70-year-old Haiti-born founder and former head of Hamilton Lane, which now oversees $824 billion in alternative investments. He’s CEO (and, with Hobson, cofounder) of Ariel Alternatives, which is running Project Black. “We could change the paradigm and the conversation about what it means to be a minority-owned business,” he says, “because if you look at the federal definition, it’s small and disadvantaged. We want to be large and advantaged.”

Among value investing firms, Ariel Investments is known for a patient, contrarian buy-and-hold approach. Turtles and tortoises—metal figurines, wooden replicas, stone sculptures and tortoiseshell imprints—decorate nearly every office and conference room in both its Chicago headquarters and Hobson’s main office in San Francisco’s Presidio.

Yet Hobson’s rise at Ariel was anything but slow. Founder Rogers hired her right out of Princeton and let her know, when she was just 25, that he planned to make her its president by the time she was 30. “Whenever you have a star, you want them to see a career path—that’s basic business 101,” says Rogers, who first spotted Hobson’s promise when she was a high school senior and he was recruiting Chicago students for Princeton.

Even in grade school, Hobson fixated on education as her ticket to a secure future. She was by far the youngest of Dorothy Ashley’s six children—her oldest sibling is more than two decades her senior. Hobson describes her mother as loving, optimistic (sometimes unrealistically so) and hardworking. Ashley tried to make a living renovating condos, but between discrimination and spotty money management skills, she couldn’t always pay the bills. Hobson’s childhood was peppered with multiple evictions and utility shut-offs.

“It felt extremely insecure,” says Hobson, who has become a powerful advocate for financial literacy. “I ended up knowing way more about our life than any child should know. I knew what our rent was. I knew when our phone bill was late.”

Hobson had been accepted to both Harvard and Princeton and was set on Harvard until she attended a Princeton recruitment dinner, organized by Rogers, at the Chicago Yacht Club. Venture capitalist Richard Missner sat down beside her and declared that he intended to change both her choice of college and her life. He began calling her every day, eventually inviting her to a breakfast for one of his Princeton classmates—then-U.S. Senator and former New York Knicks star Bill Bradley—seating her next to the guest of honor.

“Mellody made a very deep impression on me,” Bradley says. “She is where she is today because of the values she held as a high school senior, her incredible discipline and a positive energy level that made people want to be around her.” Hobson chose Princeton, and a lasting friendship was born.

When Bradley ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000, Hobson was a tireless fundraiser, impressing another Bradley backer: Starbucks billionaire Howard Schultz. Hobson joined Starbucks’ board in 2005 and became nonexecutive chair in 2021, making her the only Black woman currently heading an S&P 500 board.

“The currency of the way she carries herself is steeped in emotional intelligence,” Schultz says. “Mellody is always present. She puts on no airs. She’s as comfortable with a part-time barista as she is with any high-profile person you can mention.”

Schultz introduced Hobson to DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, who in turn recruited her for his board. Hobson became chair of DreamWorks in 2012 and in 2016 negotiated its sale for $3.8 billion (a 50% premium to its stock price before talks became public) across from Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, a famously tough bargainer. “She had never bought or sold a company before, but you would have thought she had been doing this her whole life,” Katzenberg marvels.

The movie connection presumably gave Hobson something to talk about when she met Star Wars creator George Lucas at an Aspen, Colorado, business conference in 2006. On their first dinner date they talked about their shared commitment to promoting educational access. When she married the billionaire in 2013 at his Skywalker Ranch in California, Bradley walked her down the aisle. (Lucas, Hobson and their 9-year-old daughter have their primary homes in California, as well as a penthouse in Chicago.)

It’s a lifelong pattern: One A-list friend or business associate is wowed and introduces Hobson to another, who repeats the process. She met Formula 1 champion Sir Lewis Hamilton in 2007 through Lucas, a racing enthusiast; she now calls the British driver her “little brother” and included him in the new Denver Broncos ownership group (Hobson owns 5.5%) headed by billionaire Walmart heir Rob Walton.

Former Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg and Hobson bonded when both served on Starbucks’ board. Hobson was there for her, Sandberg says, when her husband died suddenly from a heart condition in 2015. Tennis great Serena Williams met Hobson through a mutual friend, Grammy-winning singer Alicia Keys. “We totally hit it off.

I admired what she was talking about,” Williams says. “Now, it’s so funny. I don’t remember anything she said—I just remember being totally enamored by how authoritative she was. For me, it’s always so exciting to see someone like her, in that position, to be so confident to have that aplomb when she walks into a room.”

No relationship has been more important to Hobson than her apprenticeship-turned-partnership with Ariel founder John W. Rogers Jr. The 64-year-old Rogers grew up in a different world: His father was a Tuskegee Airman and a judge. His mother was the first Black woman to graduate from the University of Chicago Law School and the granddaughter of one of the architects of Greenwood, the prosperous Black community in Tulsa destroyed by a white riot in 1921. Rogers captained the Princeton basketball team when Craig Robinson, Michelle Obama’s brother, was a freshman on it. He later became close to the Obamas, chairing the president-elect’s first inauguration committee and giving him Ariel’s offices to work from after his victory.

When Hobson came home from Princeton for Christmas break her sophomore year, Rogers invited her to meet his mother, Jewel Lafontant, at her Water Tower Place apartment. “I was in this beautiful apartment, and it just seemed so normal to them, and they were Black, which I had not ever seen before,” Hobson says. “The bar got reset in that moment.”

While interning at Ariel the following summer, Hobson didn’t hide her ambition. On Saturday mornings, Rogers would go to a McDonald’s downtown—on Wabash Avenue under the train tracks, Hobson remembers—order two biscuits with butter and a large Diet Coke and sit there reading a stack of newspapers. Hobson would show up with the same stack of papers and read them in the same order—just so she’d be prepared in case he commented on what he was reading.

“She was always eager to jump in the car wherever I was going,” Rogers says. He helped her get an internship with T. Rowe Price the next summer, and she interviewed with big Wall Street firms for a job after graduating from Princeton in 1991. But she joined tiny Ariel instead. Rather than being a small cog in a huge machine, she wanted to start her career in the room where decisions were made.

Rogers manages Ariel’s stock picking and investment strategies; Hobson oversees everything else. She became co-CEO in 2019, the same year she bought 14% of Rogers’ ownership stake—making her the largest shareholder in Ariel, with 39.5%. (Read more about Rogers’ current stock picks here.)

In its 40 years, Ariel has gone through some rough patches—the most harrowing during the 2008 global financial crisis, when the Ariel Fund, its largest, fell 48% and investors fled. The firm’s assets collapsed from $21 billion in 2004 to just $3.3 billion in March 2009, and it was forced to lay off 18 of its 100 employees. Hobson and Rogers visited their friend and mentor, billionaire investor Mario Gabelli, for advice. “Keep your seat belt fastened. Don’t sell the business,” Gabelli recalls telling them. “Don’t look for an equity partner. Keep it yourself and go full speed ahead.” They sent Gabelli a thank-you note, and after the Ariel Fund returned 63% in 2009, crushing its competition, he sent that note back to them in a frame with “I told you so” scrawled in big letters on top.

Project Black made its first investment last year, acquiring 52.5% of Utah-based Sorenson Communications from other private equity investors at an enterprise value of $1.3 billion. The two-decade-old company, with $837 million in sales in the year ended in September 2021, is the leader in services for the deaf and hard of hearing—providing everything from phone call captioning to sign-language interpreters. Sorenson’s new CEO is Jorge Rodriguez, a 53-year-old telecom veteran, who previously ran various subsidiaries for Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim’s América Móvil corporation.

In less than 12 months the company has gone from one person of color to 13 across its C-suite and boardroom. Sorenson is adding Spanish-language services and has agreed to acquire 70% of CQ Fluency, a minority-owned business with annual revenue of $45 million, that provides translation services to health insurers including Cigna, Aetna and UnitedHealth Group.

Over the next three years, Project Black plans to similarly buy, minoritize and expand companies in six to 10 other areas where it sees room for growth, based on its conversations with larger firms. It’s looking at financial and professional services, health care, technology, manufacturing and logistics. “We don’t want to be the provider of janitorial services,” emphasizes Ariel Alternatives CEO Leslie Brun. “We want to be in the mainstream of the economy and providing value-added services.”

Hobson and Brun aren’t just working their own C-suite contacts. Some of those original Sunday Zoom partici-pants are now advisors—people such as William M. Lewis, an Apollo partner who was chairman of investment banking at Lazard for 17 years ending in 2021, and James Bell, the former Boeing CFO whose board memberships include Apple. Naturally, Rogers, who sits on the boards of McDonald’s, Nike and the New York Times, is also an advisor.

Hobson, Brun and their backers throw around huge numbers about what Project Black and similar efforts can accomplish. Over the next decade, they forecast, their portfolio companies will generate an additional $8 billion to $10 billion in annual revenue while creating 100,000 jobs for underrepresented people. But that’s just the start. Some big corporations are talking about boosting purchases from minority-run suppliers from the current 2% to 10% or even 15%. That could translate to a trillion-dollar opportunity. The thesis, Steve Ballmer says, is that “there’s an untapped market” that “will not only benefit the community but will generate great returns for us as an investor.” Brun says he’ll consider Project Black a success if it spawns copycat investment funds.

Beyond the numbers, this is partly a networking play designed to match capital and people—which is, in essence, one of Hobson’s superpowers. Already, she says, “we’ve had people come to us and say ‘If you were to buy a business one day, maybe I could run it.’ ” She contrasts that with what she has long heard from big business. “So many times, especially in corporate America, they say they can’t identify the [minority] talent,” Hobson says. “We know them as friends. We know them up and down the food chain in corporate America. We know them as entrepreneurs. We know them as business leaders.”

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