No. 192: Interview with Mellody Hobson


Mellody Hobson and Jason Hirschhorn had a really nice conversation here covering a range of topics. Below are notes on things that stood out.

On Board Participation

  • Have a clear picture of who you have a fiduciary responsibility to
  • Pay attention to the line between what is management’s responsibility to solve problems and your responsibility to hold them accountable.
  • “Boards matter in times of trouble.”
  • A key tell is whether the CEO on whose board you sit is comfortable with you having a relationship with folks below them.

Hobson’s recounting of Starbucks’ handling of the arrest of the two brothers in one of their stores was quite interesting from a crisis management standpoint. What lessons has Facebook or Twitter taken from that situation?

On Diversity

  • “You don’t even realize the world has changed so dramatically and if you keep living with this view, it’s going to be dangerous.”
  • “The business world is the only world where the one thing they’ll say ‘we’re working on’ on is diversity. Everything else – you fail, you get fired.”

I’m curious what the conversations between Hobson and Jamie Dimon have looked like as the bank has gone backwards in its ability to attract and retain black bankers. What feedback did she have on the recent move to position two women to be among the contenders to be the banks next CEO?

On Media

  • There is going to be a business around curating media (a la Netflix) particularly around news. You’re going to need someone to help you filter through the news and help you know what to trust.

This curation point was a bit confusing for me. We have had curation sites for quite some time. One of the most powerful in the media world, The Drudge Report, has shaped the political debate in the U.S. for a very long time. I’m having a hard time understanding what’s different about this future curation business.

Building a Diverse Newsroom

This tweet exposed the work Axios has to do to improve the diversity of its news room. It was jarring to see how few people of color the startup had working there at the time. Alexi McCammond, one of their top reporters, wasn’t in the shot, but that’s not much help.

If you click into the tweet, you’ll see folks going in on the lack of diversity at the startup. So, I was glad to see Axios partner with Howard to host one of their excellent Axios360 events. They recently hired a black journalist and I look forward to them making a concerted effort to adding more underrepresented journalists – of which I imagine this event is part of the strategy.

Building a newsroom is one of the things I’m most excited about in building CultureBanx. It’s been fantastic having Kori on board and I’ve got my eye on some other really talented business journalists. If we can execute on the vision for this thing, I’ll be able to recruit one of the most special news rooms out there.

Who are your favorite black business journalists?

No. 90: Thursday AM Reads and Listens

No. A little over a year ago, Jehiel was telling me about this idea he had for smart tractors. A few days ago, he talked about what Hello Tractor is doing while moderating a panel with President Obama. Amazing.

It is so frustrating to read story after story on America’s failing infrastructure.

Great post by Mark Suster on startup failure.

Barry Ritholtz’s Masters in Business podcast is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Here’s a great one with Dambisa Moyo, though he interrupted her a lot.

Mind boggling graphics on China’s investment around the world.

Nice rundown of the latest in the startup scene across Africa.

First Round Capital looked at ten years worth of data from its time investing in startups at the seed stage. The findings are interesting, though I don’t feel comfortable with the “Where You Went to School Matters” finding. I think that propagates some of the diversity issues in the US technology startup scene.

I highly recommend you read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new book, Between the World and Me. I’ve been struggling with writing a post on it, so I’m just going to sit with it for a while. Perhaps I’ll have something of substance to say later.