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Valerie Jarrett

Updated on November 21, 2012

Valerie Jarrett: Chicagoan, Businesswoman, and Obama Advisor

Learn more about Chicago's Valerie Jarrett, a close friend and advisor to President Barack Obama. A lawyer, businesswoman and political worker, her career has spanned decades - all with the one driving motivation to make the world a better place for her own daughter.  In 2008, Jarrett worked with President Barack Obama's transition team, and is now advising Obama in the White House.  It is said that she is the closest and most powerful friend to Barack and Michelle Obama.

Valerie Jarrett's Early Years

An African-American Chicagoan in Iran

Valerie Jarrett was born in Shiraz, Iran, on November 14, 1956. Her parents, Dr. James and Baraba Bowman, were in Iran as part of Dr. Bowman's job helping to run a children's hospital. At the age of five, the Bowman family moved to London for one year, and then returned home to Chicago, where they had deep roots. (Her grandfather was the first African American to head the Chicago Housing Authority and her father, Dr. James Bowman, a specialist in hematology and pathology, became the first black resident at Chicago's St. Luke's Hospital.) Valerie was teased by her Chicago classmates because of her English accent, which she acquired during her first five years overseas. She spoke Farsi and French, in addition to English, as a child.

Valerie Jarrett's Educational Background

A Focus on Learning

Valerie's mother is Barbara Bowman, an education expert and co-founder of the Erikson Institute, a graduate school for the study of child development. It is no surprise, then, that a big emphasis on learning and education made Valerie a great student. During her high school years, Valerie traveled to places like Ghana, Nigera and Egypt during the summer break. She attended the University of Chicago Laboratory School, then Northfield Mount Hermon, a Massachusetts boarding school. She earned her bachelor's degree in psychology from Stanford in 1978. She went on to earn a law degree from the University of Michigan in 1981.

Valerie Jarrett's Family Life

A Daughter Inspires Her Mother's Career

Jarrett was married to William Robert Jarrett, a childhood friend, from 1983 to 1988. She has one daughter, Laura, whom she says is the reason she switched from a private to a public career, wanting to do something to make the world a better place for her daughter. While serving in the Chicago Mayor's Office her devotion to her daughter as a single parent was well known. It was rumored that she often checked her watch during meetings, and once told Mayor Daley she had to leave early to make her daughter's Halloween parade.

Valerie Jarrett's Career

From Law to Business to Politics

In her early career, Valerie Jarrett practiced law at two private law firms. After deciding to seek a career in the public life, she took a job in 1987 as Deputy Corporation Counsel for Finance and Development for Chicago Mayor Harold Washington. After Mayor Washington's tragic early death, Valerie continued to serve in the mayor's office, working as Deputy Chief of Staff for Mayor Richard Daley. She was the Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development from 1992 through 1995, and then the Chair of the Chicago Transit Board from 1995 to 2003.

In 1995, Jarrett joined The Habitat Company, a developer and manager of residential apartments and condominiums. From November 1995 through January 31, 2007, she was the Executive Vice President of The Habitat Company, and she became the President and Chief Executive Officer of The Habitat Company on January 31, 2007.

In addition to her primary work with the city and the Habitat Company, Jarrett served as Chairman of the Board of the Chicago Stock Exchange, Inc, from April 2004 through April 2007, and Chairman of the Board of the Chicago Stock Exchange Holdings, Inc., from February 2005 through April 2007. She also served as a Director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago from January 2006 through April 2007

Ms. Jarrett currently serves as a co-chair of the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team and as a Director of USG Corporation, Inc., Navigant Consulting, Inc. and RREEF America II. She is Chairman of the University of Chicago Medical Center Board of Trustees. She is also Vice Chairman of The University of Chicago Board of Trustees, the Chicago 2016 Olympic Committee, and Metropolis 2020. She is a Director of the Local Initiative Support Corporation, The Joyce Foundation, The Metropolitan Planning Council and the Central Area Committee. She is a Trustee of the Museum of Science and Industry.

On November 14, 2008, President-elect Barack Obama selected Jarrett as White House Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Relations and Public Liaison. Jarrett will manage the White House Office of Public Liaison and work with state and local governments.

Valerie Jarrett featured in "Your Inner CEO"

Your Inner CEO: Unleash the Executive Within
Your Inner CEO: Unleash the Executive Within

This book includes information on Valerie Jarrett's success, and how you can try similar strategies for your own life.


Valerie Jarrett on Senator Barack Obama

Valerie Jarrett on Transition and Ethics Reform

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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Very informative. I knew who Jarrett was, but didn't really know anything about her until reading your lens.

    • michelleart profile image

      Michelle Collins 

      8 years ago from Florida

      Another Great Lens! Love it! Keeping people informed!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Valerie Jarrett is an interest person. You presented this well.

    • LoKackl profile image


      8 years ago

      Valerie Jarrett is a wonderful role model for today's girls. Thanks for this feature on her life and story. Blessed.

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 

      9 years ago from Canada

      Nicely done & blessed.

    • DianeNassy profile image


      9 years ago

      Great Squidwho lens. 5 stars!

    • Webcodes LM profile image

      Webcodes LM 

      9 years ago

      Interesting. I never heard of her until this lens. 5*.


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