• Crain's forum on racial gaps
  • Anchor institutions are like baseball during the color barrier

    Investment executive John Rogers Jr. laments the slow pace of diversity in Chicago's business community.

    Alex Garcia

    John Rogers Jr.

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    79彩票注册网址John Rogers Jr. founded Ariel Capital Management in 1983. He is now chairman, co-CEO and chief investment officer of Ariel Investments, the country's largest minority-run mutual fund firm.

    Rogers was tapped by Mayors Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel to lead task forces on diversity and inclusion. Crain's spoke with Rogers about the current state of diversity and racial inequity in Chicago's business sector. Following is an edited transcript.

    CRAIN'S: So in spending years trying to help diversify Chicago's business community, what have you learned?

    ROGERS:79彩票注册网址 Our economy has become a professional services-, financial services- and technology-based economy. And almost without exception, all the progressive institutions and minority businesses are located in construction, catering, janitorial services—the lowest-margin, least profitable parts of our ecosystem.

    79彩票注册网址In the most profitable parts of our ecosystem, the growth areas, minorities are pretty much locked out completely.

    Even today, the probability of an African American person in the public schools of becoming a professional athlete is much higher than becoming a partner in a hedge firm or private-equity firm or investment banking firm or consulting firm—all put together. It's not even a close call.

    We need to work on supplier diversity, so it focuses the mind on including people of color in the jobs, power and wealth that is being created today. We know who are the wealthiest and most powerful people in Chicago today—the people who run the hedge funds, the private-equity firms, the venture-capital firms, the investment banks. We need to include everybody in these powerful parts of the economy.

    79彩票注册网址We also have to not be dependent on the government for everything. We have to get our own institutions in our local communities to work with African American and Latino firms.

    There are positive stories. The University of Chicago has gone from zero 11 years ago to working with over 90 minority-owned firms in professional services. They buy everything from accounting services, legal services to architecture services.

    If you look at the decades of history—Roosevelt, Columbia, IIT, the Museum of Science & Industry, the Adler Planetarium, the aquarium, the Field Museum—they've had virtually no interest in working with African American or Latino firms outside of catering or construction.

    It's just kind of unfortunate that our anchor institutions, for the most part, look like baseball did in 1940 when it comes to including people of color. It's just the reality of it.

    One thing you said for a Crain's story in 2013, on black businesses struggling, was "We're just not fighting hard enough." Did you mean that African Americans are not fighting hard enough or that the white institutions are not fighting hard enough to diversify? Or is it both?

    I think it's a shared responsibility. When I am on a board, what I tell folks is, part of my job as a board member is to help you live up to the commitments that you've made publicly.

    Is there anything you can point to that is working when it comes to enhancing diversity?

    McDonald's has a long history of minority franchisees being successful, as well as using minority suppliers.

    Exelon has the best program in the country for working toward and pushing majority companies to put minority executives in leadership roles.

    When you see black and brown people lacking in these categories of wealth and education and health care, how do you think that affects the overall health of our city and region?

    So much of the crisis in some of our neighborhoods is tied to lack of job opportunities for adults. If you don't create jobs in our communities, you're going to continue to have poor educational outcomes and violence.

    Yet we have these institutions on public land, on parkland, that are dependent on our government institutions, that are not providing jobs to the local communities. Shame on them, because they are part of the problem, not part of the solution. It's nice that school kids can go visit a museum on the South Side. That's wonderful. But we need jobs for those kids.

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