Abigail Johnson, everything you need to know about this brilliant businesswoman

Abigail Johnson, or Abby as her friends call her, is an American businesswoman and president of Fidelity’s Employer Services Company, considered the largest mutual fund company in the U.S. She has an estimated net worth of $17.58 billion, being the sixth wealthiest woman in America. Regardless of being the daughter of Edward C. Johnson III, the owner and the man who runs Fidelity Investments and Fidelity International, just like Jamie Dimon, Abigail started working for the company from the bottom, answering phone calls at the company’s customer-service department.

american businesswoman_Abigail Johnson_patrick dwyer merrill lynch
Image courtesy of Jim Sher at Flickr.com

She is known for being a fund observer and a hard worker who has led the company to be the industry powerhouse holding $1.4 trillion of the mutual fund business. Despite the fact that Abigail is one of the wealthiest people in America, she lives a simple life, spending eleven hours at the office every day and eluding publicity and occasionally giving interviews.

In this article, Patrick Dwyer will talk about the most significant achievements of Abigail Johnson as an executive of Fidelity.

Born to be part of the game

Abigail was born on December 19, 1961, in Boston as Abigail Pierrepont Johnson. She comes from an old Boston family with Brahmin roots, whose history in commerce in New England dates back to 1800s. When she was born, the mutual-fund firm Fidelity Management and Research (FMR) was already the family business, founded by her grandfather back in 1946. While she was a teenager, FMR emerged as one of the leading companies in the finance sector, as a mutual fund dedicated to pool and manage investors’ money with the help of a professional portfolio manager, or team of managers.

In 1977, her father, Edward C. Johnson III, took over the company and gave Abigail her first job at the company right after she finished high school in 1980. She was in charge of answering phones in its customer-service department. But she didn’t stay in the company for too long. She enrolled at Hobart and William Smith College and majored in art history. Later, she would attend Harvard Business School, from which she earned an M.B.A. in 1988. After obtaining her M.B.A., Abigail joined Fidelity Investments and started working full-time as a modest stock analyst, just as her father once was. Johnson became a portfolio manager and proved that she was a fund overseer who achieved solid, though not extravagant, results for Fidelity’s clients.

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Image courtesy of Ken Lund at Flickr.com

Climbing to the top

Johnson was made an associate director of the company in 1994. A year later her father divested himself of a significant portion of shares, giving them to FMR, the original company. This move allowed Abigail to become the largest shareholder and probably the next person in the family to someday run the company. Later on, in 1998 Johnson was promoted to senior vice president.

In May of 2001, Fidelity made a big announcement: Johnson would succeed Robert C. Pozen as president of Fidelity’s mutual fund division. Even though the news was a bit shocking for Wall Street, Abigail’s new position made her number three at the company, after her father and Robert L. Reynolds, the chief operating officer. She was now in charge of an important area: investment operations.

The 280 mutual funds run by Fidelity at the beginning of the 21st century were in trouble. Still, Abigail’s company remained an industry powerhouse, holding more than $900 billion of the American mutual-fund business.

Abigail’s perspective on the company’s growth

Abigail’s father approach to business was based on the old Japanese philosophy of Kaizen, which states that small steps should be taken in order to change the circumstances and growth come slowly with those tiny steps. With a more Americanized point of view, Johnson’s approach was rather fearless and aggressive. She believed that growth should not come slowly, stating that “Sometimes you can gradually improve things, but sometimes, they don’t work, and you’ve just got to just say: Let’s grind this baby to a halt.”

Thanks to this perspective, Johnson encouraged her portfolio managers to be more aggressive when it came to buying and sell stocks, rather than just follow the stock market indices like must mutual funds do. Thanks to this risky strategy Fidelity expanded and was involved in real estate, temporary employment, venture capital, and even a motor coach business. In 2005, Johnson was named president of Fidelity’s Employer Services Company, which provides retirement, benefit, and human resources services to companies. Other family members started running the other division of the company at the same time she took the President positions for the Employer Services.

Awards and honors

Abigail Johnson serves as a member of the Committee on Capital Markets Regulation. Also, she is a member of the Board of Directors of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) and she is the first and only woman to serve on the board of the Financial Services Forum.

She has been recently ranked by Forbes as the 16th most powerful woman in the world.


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