(Bloomberg) -- Abigail Johnson has climbed the ranks of Fidelity Investments, the company started by her grandfather in 1946, over more than 25 years, starting as a stock analyst and working her way through almost every major division.
As she takes over from her 84-year-old father Edward “Ned” C. Johnson III as chief executive officer of the world’s second-largest mutual fund manager, a move announced yesterday, she’s unlikely to make bold changes to a firm that her father over more than 35 years transformed from an iconic money manager to the largest administrator of 401(k) retirement plans.
“It’s just another step in a long-planned move to ultimately have Abby take control over a company her grandfather founded,” John Bonnanzio, an editor at newsletter Fidelity Monitor & Insight, said in an interview. “It is hard to picture a tremendous change as result of this.”
Long known for the stock-picking prowess of managers such as Peter Lynch and Gerald Tsai, Fidelity in recent years has struggled to grow its actively managed stock funds as investors have flocked to exchange-traded funds and other passive strategies. While Abigail Johnson, 52, hasn’t spoken publicly about her plans to revive the fund business, Fidelity has sought to participate in the growth of ETFs with its own products and by partnering with firms such as BlackRock to sell ETFs on its brokerage platform.
Johnson’s ascent makes her the highest-ranking woman in the nearly $12 trillion mutual-fund industry. While fund companies such as BlackRock and Pacific Investment Management have women occupying important roles, Johnson’s position as leader of a money manager with $2 trillion in client money is unprecedented.
BlackRock, which manages $4.3 trillion, has three women in its 23-member global executive committee led by CEO Laurence Fink. Pimco’s Virginie Maisonneuve is the only woman among six chief investment officers at the firm. Ana Patricia Botin last month became the most powerful woman in European banking after succeeding her father as chairman of Banco Santader SA.
Abigail Johnson has a net worth of $9 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. She owns about half of the family’s shares in FMR LLC, Fidelity’s holding company, according to regulatory filings. The family’s stake totals 49%, with the rest of the shares held by former and current employees.
Known for being reclusive, Abigail Johnson shuns press interviews as well as public displays of wealth, Bloomberg Markets magazine reported in its November 2013 issue. She owns a number of homes, including a waterfront property on Nantucket, worth about $13 million at the time, according to real estate website Zillow.com. Most of the time, she lives in a house that once belonged to her grandfather, in Milton, Massachusetts, worth about $2 million at the time of the Bloomberg Markets story. Neither property stands out from its surroundings.
Fidelity’s appointment of Johnson as president two years ago resolved the long-standing question of who would lead the family-controlled company. After managing a series of stock funds at Fidelity, Johnson was appointed as president of the asset-management business in 2001, and her father tapped her to run the retirement unit starting in 2005. In 2010, she took over the brokerage and other institutional services.
Fidelity’s mutual funds have lost $8.8 billion to withdrawals this year through Sept. 30, compared with $143.8 billion in new money attracted by Vanguard Group, according to data from Morningstar in Chicago. Vanguard Group, based in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania and known for its low-cost index products, overtook Fidelity as the largest mutual-fund company in 2010.
Ronald O’Hanley, who ran Fidelity’s money-management business, stepped down earlier this year and was replaced by Charles Morrison, previously head of Fidelity’s fixed-income division.
Fidelity continues to shift focus to its record-keeping, retirement and brokerage businesses. As of June 30, the company had $4.9 trillion in assets under administration, which includes money it oversees as a record-keeper for retirement plans and for independent financial advisers and hedge funds.
“We’re still best known for our expertise in investment management,” Abigail Johnson said in a question-and-answer section in Fidelity’s annual report released in February. “But over the years, as we’ve grown to meet customer needs, we’ve become much more than a mutual-fund company.”
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