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“Diversity has advantages from various perspectives”: Carlos Calderón

Originally from Ecuador, this executive advocates for giving more opportunities to minority-owned businesses as suppliers for Fortune 500 companies.
By Migdalis Pérez
The fact that Ariel Investments has the goal of improving minority inequalities in the United States, “with big and productive goals for the progress of people like us,” is what led Carlos Calderón to join this global asset management company based in Chicago in 2021.
“In my career, I have had the opportunity to work in companies like Morgan Stanley, BNY Mellon, and State Street, which are companies with similar work but on a much larger global scale. All of them were very important and good experiences, but Ariel truly feels very different,” the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) emphasized.

The first capital and investment manager in the U.S.

In his opinion, this difference is based on two main factors: the first factor is that “Ariel is a strong advocate for ESG investments, a term used to determine that companies have environmental, social, and governance values integrated into their strategy for operation.”
The second factor is that “Ariel Investments is the U.S.’s first capital and investments manager founded by African Americans. Specifically, we have two CEOs: John W. Rogers Jr., who is the founder, and Mellody Hobson, who is the largest shareholder.”
There is indeed pride in working for a company with such characteristics. Carlos himself belongs to a minority, having been born in Ecuador and, although he arrived in the United States at the age of three, he understands the need to advocate for diversity by supporting small minority-owned businesses.
“We believe that diversity has advantages from various perspectives, and the private sector can play a leadership role in addressing social issues such as inequality,” the business graduate from the Isenberg School of Business at the University of Massachusetts Amherst pointed out.

Our public products focus on small to medium-sized domestic companies

Focused on public and private investments, Ariel Investments has offices in Chicago, Manhattan, San Francisco, and Australia. “We manage approximately $17 billion for our clients. Our public equities products focus on small to medium-sized domestic companies based in the U.S., and global and emerging markets companies of all sizes”, explained Calderon.

Regarding the Ariel Alternatives initiative, he explained that it is a $1.4 billion project to invest in businesses owned by diverse individuals or businesses with the potential to become minority-owned. In this regard, he gave the example of Sorenson Communications, the leading provider of services in the U.S. for the deaf and hard of hearing.
“That was a significant achievement for us,” he explained, “as the transaction was for $1.3 billion, and we purchased 52.5% of the shares. The company had a team of over 30 senior leaders and board members. Before we bought it, just 3 percent of this group were diverse individuals. Six months later, 43 percent of the leadership and board were diverse. [In this way], Sorenson became a minority-led company,” he emphasized.

A solution to create businesses with diverse owners

Calderón highlighted the importance of this initiative because “Fortune 500 companies, the largest and most global ones, want to help minority people, but they feel there are few options to do so. So, we have a solution to create businesses with diverse owners; [businesses] that these companies can use as their suppliers.”
Regarding the firm’s current focus, he said, “Ariel has partnered with another company here in Chicago, Russell Reynolds, which has coined the term the ‘3Ps’: People, Purchasing, and Philanthropy. That’s what they tell a company looking for a long-term solution to help the Hispanic or African American community.”
Then, he added, our “focus is on the third part, purchasing. We are educating and looking into how Hispanic or African-American businesses can become suppliers to Fortune 500 companies. We have learned that they not only need access to capital; they have faced many challenges in finding customers.”

Minority suppliers

Ariel Investments’s CFO provided an example with a study from the National Minority Supplier Development Council, which found that the participation of Fortune 500 companies in minority-owned businesses is only 2 percent.
“It means that a company spends, let’s say, $100, and out of that $100, only two go to minority suppliers. That’s too low. The Hispanic and African American populations represent a much larger portion of the population.” Therefore, he noted, “this shows that something is wrong.”

To change this landscape, he indicated that at Ariel, the goal is to use “10 to 15% minority-owned suppliers. A goal that we not only advocate for others but also want for ourselves.” He concluded that “one has to be very intentional to achieve such a change.”