Growing up in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, Mr. Rogers was close friends with Craig Johnson, whose sister, Michelle, wed Mr. Obama. Mr. Rogers, as captain of the Princeton University basketball team, helped recruit Mr. Johnson to Princeton, where Mr. Johnson also played basketball.
Mr. Rogers was an early supporter of Mr. Obama in his run for the Illinois Senate in 1997, and has played a major role in fundraising ever since. He is a member of Mr. Obama's inner circle and is a frequent visitor to the White House.
During Mr. Obama's first three days as president-elect in 2008, Mr. Rogers let him and his staff use Ariel's offices.
Another childhood friend of Mr. Rogers, Arne Duncan, is secretary of education. Mr. Duncan has cited Mr. Rogers as his mentor. Mr. Duncan with Mr. Rogers opened the Ariel Community Academy in 1996, a public elementary school supported by the money management firm.
In a speech to the Urban League in July 2007, Mr. Obama boasted of his efforts in 2001 to help African-American businesses as an Illinois state senator. He said he helped a handful of African-American-owned investment firms in Chicago get a larger share of business with Illinois state pension funds. “And in six months, they got about a half-billion dollars' worth of business simply on their excellence,” Mr. Obama said, according to a record of the speech.
Mr. Obama, as a member of the Illinois Senate, was pushing public pension funds to give minority-owned firms more money to manage.
Ariel received three contracts in 2001 from Illinois pension funds: the Teachers' Retirement System awarded $201 million; the State Board of Investment awarded the firm $178 million; and the State Universities Retirement System awarded Ariel $49 million.
Mr. Rogers said Ariel did not need Mr. Obama's intervention. Money was pouring into Ariel at the time because “our performance was on the top of the charts.”
Mr. Rogers said he and other minority leaders had pushed Mr. Obama for greater inclusion for African-American professional businesses. He said Mr. Obama responded broadly.
“Any impression that Barack was just trying to help a few people is not true,” Mr. Rogers said. “He was trying to help a broader subsection of Afro-American entrepreneurs get doors open that had been closed for generations.”
Ariel President Mellody Hobson in a separate interview said Ariel received no special treatment from Mr. Obama. “John was in the top 1% of money managers in the country,” she said of Ariel's results in the early 2000s. “The firm already was getting business from Illinois retirement systems before Mr. Obama got involved.”