Hobson was born in Chicago, Illinois. She attended Ogden Elementary School and later was educated at St. Ignatius College Prep high school, and subsequently attended Princeton University, graduating in 1991 with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
Soon after her graduation from Princeton, Hobson joined Ariel Investments as an intern and rose to become the firm's senior vice president and director of marketing. In 2000, she ascended to become the president of Ariel, a Chicago investment firm that manages over $10 billion in assets. It is also one of the largest African American-owned money management and mutual fund companies in the United States.
Hobson is also the Chair of the Board of Trustees of Ariel Investment Trust and the Chair of DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc. She is a regular contributor on financial issues on CBS This Morning and a spokesperson for the annual Ariel/Schwab Black Investor Survey.
Hobson serves on the board of many organizations, including the Chicago Public Education Fund, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art and the Sundance Institute. She is also a director of the Starbucks Corporation, The Estée Lauder Companies Inc., and DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc.. Hobson has been acclaimed in selections such as Time's 2015 Time 100 List, the magazine's annual list of the one hundred most influential people in the world)., Ebony magazine's "20 Leaders of the Future" (1992), Working Women Magazine's "20 Under 30" (1992), the World Economic Forum's "Global Leaders of Tomorrow" (2001), Esquire's "America's Best and Brightest" (2002), The Wall Street Journal's 50 "Women to Watch" (2004).
Hobson created and hosted a show on ABC on May 29, 2009, called Unbroke: What You Need to Know About Money, featuring celebrities such as the Jonas Brothers, Oscar the Grouch and Samuel L. Jackson.
Actress Vanessa L. Williams based her character, self-made businesswoman Courtney Paige (in the American television drama, The Good Wife), on Hobson, studying her via Hobson's TED talks. In 2017, Hobson was named to head the Economic Club of Chicago, the first African-American woman to do so.
On August 6, 2017 Hobson guest hosted CBS Sunday Morning's annual "Money Issue" episode.
Hobson began dating film director and producer George Lucas in 2006, after they met at a business conference. Hobson and Lucas announced their engagement in January 2013, and were married on June 22, 2013, at Lucas' Skywalker Ranch. They have one daughter together, Everest Hobson Lucas, who was born via surrogacy in August 2013.
Hobson was photographed by Annie Leibovitz for the 2016 Pirelli Calendar.