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June 19, 2012

I Started at the Bottom… Now I'm the Boss!

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Mellody Hobson
President, Ariel Investments


In 1989, the Princeton University sophomore scored a summer internship at Chicago-based Ariel Investments, then a small boutique investment firm. Her sole responsibility: answering founder John Rogers' mail. Hobson, now 43, rose through the ranks quickly, becoming president a decade later.

TIP #1: MEASURE SUCCESS IN YEARS, NOT MONTHS. "When I look at a résumé and see a lot of jobs, I can't be sure of the person's success. Many people leave jobs just in time—they fail up. Someone sent me a cartoon once that said, 'One job for 20 years. What, no get up and go?' I feel it's just the opposite—longevity projects a positive statement. I've always had long-term goals, but I know I don't have to hit them in months. I'm patient. That says something to a client: 'When you hire me, I'm not going anywhere.'"

TIP #2: SHOW—DON'T TELL—HOW GREAT YOU ARE. "Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz called me up and said, 'We'd love to have you on our board. But you're very young—we're going to have to get to know you first.' I remember thinking, Don't push—being overly aggressive will lose you this opportunity. So I told him, 'However long it takes, I'll wait for you to come back to me.' I would drop him nice notes occasionally so I would stay on his mind. But I'd never call. I didn't have anyone lobby for me. A couple of years later, he came back and asked me. The lesson: Be realistic, show some humility, let them come to the conclusion on their own. It's a major turnoff when someone shows up and tells you how great they are."

TIP #3: SUCCESSFUL FRIENDS ARE OFTEN MORE VALUABLE THAN MENTORS. "[Facebook COO] Sheryl Sandberg is one of my closest friends. Though we met only in the last few years, we clicked instantly. I remember calling Sheryl after a really bad meeting where the guy treated me horrifically. I just needed someone to vent to, someone I could get a little teary with. It's very rare in these sorts of busy, crazy lives we lead to have someone like that, but you need them. We are very honest with each other, and we root for each other. I've had unbelievable male mentors, but my relationships with women have been game changers. There's no agenda except our well-being."

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