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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Abby's Good Heir Day Reviewed

News summary by MFWire's editors

Abby Johnson's changing role at Fidelity [profile] is the big story of the day from the mutual fund industry. It may even push the Romney/Ryan fest in Tampa Bay to the edges of some fundster's minds. Perhaps because of their editors' attention to politics, the nation's big two papers — the Washington Post and the New York Times — both abdicated their coverage of Abby's becoming Ron O'Hanley's boss to wire services (the Associated Press and Reuters respectively).

The NY Post is worth reading just for its stereotypical "Postian" headline: "Abigail has a good heir day". Otherwise, there is not much there.

The Boston Herald also taps into the "heir" theme, but in a more respectful fashion. Otherwise, the paper fails to leverage its hometown positioning on the story, quoting the Fidelity press release and an anodyne comment from Fidelity press guru Anne Crowley.

"(Abigail’s) always said when she’s taking on a new role, and she said it again this time, that she focuses on her new role, and she’s never participated in speculation about potential new roles," Crowley told the Herald.

But just because Abby's not speculating about her future does not mean that others are not.

The Herald goes on to quote Fidelity watcher Jim Lowell (publisher of the Fidelity Investor) that “It’s a tipping point in the succession plan. It says to me that Abigail is clearly taking on more reins at Fidelity ahead of taking over the reign itself.”

The Boston Globe's Beth Healy won the assignment to cover Abby's changing role for Fidelity's other hometown paper. Healy wastes no time speculating on what the change means to Abby's future.

"The promotion is the clearest sign yet that Abigail Johnson, who has been groomed for years to potentially take over the company, is firmly on target to one day run Fidelity," surmises Healy.

Healy is also the only reporter to delve into Abby's background. She notes that Abby is one of Ned's three children and that she joined Fidelity in 1988 after spending two summers as a research analyst at the firm and has since "done virtually every job at the firm that her grandfather started and her father turned[sic] into one of the largest mutual fund managers in the world."

Healy adds that the "down-to-Earth for a billionaire" Abby is "well-liked inside Fidelity" and "comes across as serious, smart, and reserved."

Jim Lowell rival John Bonnanzio (editor of Fidelity Insight) wins the "insightful source" role at the Globe. "I think having clarity in leadership is always helpful," is his quote. Bonnanzio also points out that a line of disappointed executives with aspirations of taking over Fidelity has formed over the years, and O'Hanley is just the latest to join it.

Reuters calls the move "the strongest signal yet that [Abby] could be the next leader of the mutual fund powerhouse founded by her grandfather." The news service also notes that Fidelity "faces stiff competition, investors' lack of confidence in the stock market as well as the emergence of low-cost, index-based exchange-traded funds (ETFs)."

It also fleshes out Abby's background at Hobart and William Smith Colleges (she studied art history), Harvard Business School and her time at Booz Allen. The consulting firm is where Abby met Christopher McKown, now her husband. Oh yes, there are eight credits for reporters and editors listed on the Reuters story.

Christopher Condon is the sole reporter credited at Bloomberg Business Week. Condon reports that "Johnson is now the clear successor to 82-year-old Ned Johnson as the company founded by her grandfather in 1946 struggles with the move by an increasing number of investors away from actively managed funds."

At least someone is certain.

Condon also covers much of the same ground walked over by his eight peers at Reuters. The last word goes to Putnam CEO Bob Reynolds in a 2008 quote pulled from the archives by Condon:

“I had the top job at Fidelity, but not the top job. And when I asked my parents, they wouldn’t let me change my name to Johnson.” 

Edited by: Sean Hanna, Editor in Chief

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