When John Rogers Jr. was 11, his father, a Chicago judge, bought him his first stocks—all blue chips. When dividend checks began to arrive, “it was like money out of thin air,” remembers Rogers, who immediately squandered his gains on his youthful passion: bowling.
Almost a decade and a half after those first mini-windfalls, Rogers, 25, is still rolling financial strikes. He founded one of the country’s first minority-owned investment advisory firms, Ariel Capital Management, from which Rogers currently oversees approximately half a million dollars’ worth of stocks. He advises clients, mostly individuals, on investments outside the stock market as well.
In his spare time Rogers writes and publishes a monthly newsletter, the Patient Investor, which hawks hot investing tips to its 400 subscribers (annual cost: $49). Its motto, “Slow and Steady Wins the Race,” from Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare, reflects Rogers’ philosophy. His recommended stocks, however, often have displayed a jackrabbit start: A recent tip, Waverly Press, a Baltimore, Md. medical publishing house, increased 37 percent in five months. Currently Rogers favors Webb Publishing in Minnesota (New York Stock Exchange, $14.25) and LIQUI-BOX, a special packaging company (NYSE, $20) in Ohio, as upwardly mobile stocks.
As a youngster Rogers devoured newspaper financial pages, and by graduation from the University of Chicago Laboratory High School he was managing his own portfolio—and tipping Dad off to hot stock market options as well. An all-state high school basketball guard, he went on to captain the Princeton University 1979 team. As an economics major Rogers carried copies of business magazines with him to away games and would call his broker from stadium pay phones.
After graduation Rogers worked for a Chicago stockbroker, William Blair & Co., for two and a half years before starting Ariel (the name comes from the African gazelle known for its smallness, swiftness and ability to survive). His executive vice-president also holds the title of Mom. Senior partner of her own law firm, Jewel Lafontant (who remarried after she and John’s father were divorced when Rogers was 3) has been a UN representative as well as Deputy Solicitor General of the United States.
Rogers now lives in a one-bedroom condo near Chicago’s North Side. His only roommate is a massive 50-inch television, which is his most common vice. “I love TV,” he confesses sheepishly. His investing approach is likewise down to earth. “Don’t try to get too fancy,” he admonishes the would-be investor. Shunning tax shelters and commodity options, he steers clients into a conservative mix of fixed-income accounts, real estate and stocks. His specialty is stalking small companies other investors often miss in grabbing for the trendy stock, but he insists his customers do their homework, too. “Some people put $10,000 into a computer company,” he says incredulously, “without taking the effort they’d make if they were buying a $30 toaster.”