Edward “Ned” Johnson III put aside his Brahmin pedigree in favor of a low-key, likable style, but he also had a keen “contrarian” instinct to step up the aggressiveness in downturns, which explains the recent frenzy of dazzling hire from Fidelity.
Note from Brooke: If you could attribute Fidelity’s success to one person, it would be “Ned” Johnson III. His father founded the business and left him a winner and his daughter, Abby, took over in 2014 without hesitation. What he succeeded in accomplishing may never be repeated: taking the classic downtown Boston business and making it a global leader in several segments of the financial services industry. For New Englanders, it was a corporate equivalent of their beloved Red Sox vs. New York Yankees or Boston Celtics vs. LA Lakers rivalry. In Fidelity’s case, Johnson was Red Auerbach or Big Papi with even more prolific stamina – really from around 1960 to the present day. Whenever something or someone extraordinary happens, it is due to an unusual confluence of factors or events. In this case, a great man took over a great company, got to work, treated people well, and never quit. He also never stopped loving the city, his family and our fiduciary financial industry. It makes us all want to say some form of “thank you,” but also comfortable that no words are really enough for a life so well lived.
Edward C. “Ned” Johnson III rose to the top in life and business by ruthlessly competing with Wall Street while building a six-decade financial services empire instilled with integrity, fairness and respect for people. clients.
Johnson, longtime CEO of Fidelity Investments, son of founder and father of current CEO Abigail “Abby” Johnson, died Wednesday, March 23. He was 91 years old.
Then, notably, she added: “He could be counted on to have a contrary point of view on just about anything.”
He relinquished the CEO position in 2014 and the chair seat in 2016, but remained chairman emeritus until his death.
At the time of his death, Fidelity had more than 500 mutual funds, $11.8 trillion under administration, $24 billion in revenue, and $8.1 billion in operating profit.
The company remains private and tightly owned by the Johnson family and Fidelity employees.
Indeed, James Lowell, a longtime business watcher and editor of Fidelity Investor, says Johnson’s contrarian edge was evident in his management of the Fidelity Magellan mutual fund.
His eye for underserved stocks has generated legendary gains. He passed his approach on to Peter Lynch, who between 1977 and 1990 averaged an unmatched annual return of 29.2%.
Johnson’s greatest success has come from applying this philosophy more broadly to the management of Fidelity. The company was famous for taking market share in times of recession or crisis by investing when others retreated or went neutral.
“Fidelity still does this, and they still do it [during the pandemic]“, explains Lowell.
Lowell is referring, in part, to the level of Manhattan Project hiring that Fidelity undertook in 2021 at a time when other companies were exercising more conservative cost controls.
The company set a goal of 9,000 new hires in one quarter and achieved it, growing its ranks to 60,000 employees.
It also forged ahead with recruiting in the face of a tight job market and the Big Quit – the record number of people quitting their jobs in 2021. See: With benefits without limits, Fidelity Investments hit in the mile its “monstrous” hiring spree, a single quarter, 9,000 employees and continues to recruit overdrive
“They realize market share isn’t just going to come to them,” Lowell says. “They go out and get it.”
Yet Fidelity’s ability to hire massively in the face of a labor shortage also goes back to Johnson, because work smacks of career opportunity, says Cecile V. Munoz, president, US Executive Search and Consulting.
“He challenged people; you could have multiple careers and never leave Fidelity,” she wrote via email.
“Just stop and look around our industry at the countless ‘c-suite’ executives, entrepreneurs, PE founders/members, hedge fund managers, etc. who have all spent time at Fidelity.
“This culture comes from the top – everyone has had the same chance to be exceptional.”
Leaders of the RIA industry or large successful RIAs themselves point out that he generously imparted this spirit wherever his travels took him.
Shirl Penney, co-founder and CEO of Dynasty Financial Partners, says he was energized by Johnson’s words, presence and willingness to show a light side.
Passion for business
“We were at a customer event 7 or 8 years ago where Ned rented out part of the Disney theme park for Fidelity customers. After sharing some great memories in Maine, we started talking business.
“When Dynasty was just starting out, he was fascinated by our business model and wanted to know what more Fidelity could do to help us. So he said, ‘Young man, tell me about your 10 year plan.
“After listening to me carefully, he said, ‘This is exceptional, now let me tell you about my 10-year plan.
“I was so inspired not only by his views on technology, our industry – the importance of it – his family and where our country needs to go, but also by his passion and his long term plan which was so clear to him when in the mid-80s.
“When he finished talking about his next ten years, he said, ‘But for the next 10 minutes, we’re going to be cycling on this magic carpet! “And that is precisely what we did!”
Lowell remembers a similar type of encounter as a child and met Johnson next door at a summer house. Johnson launched into the subject of rough pinka hedge bush that forms the border of many New England coastal homes.
“He explained it for about 20 minutes and made it interesting, explaining how he needed the salty air from the nearby ocean,” he says.
These beach roses are actually a invasive alien plant, native to Asia, that was shipwrecked in the mid-1800s.
Notably, Johnson’s philosophy was equally tenacious, he was all about ruthless competition to win, but never knowingly at the expense of a client – a view that dates back to the Japanese warrior philosophy known as “Kaizen”. .
The word, literally translated, means “improvement” or “change for the better”, but it is also a philosophy of constant search for improvement in all areas of life.
It was a lifestyle approach that was acceptable from afar, says Michael Nathanson, president and CEO from The Colony Group, which manages $13 billion in AUM, from Boston via email.
“Even before I met Ned Johnson, my first impressions were formed by observing how revered he was by those who knew him.
“Everyone called him the ‘President’ or ‘Mr. Johnson’ and repeated his words, not necessarily as mandates, but as visions for the future of Fidelity and the industry as a whole,” a said Nathanson.
“The first time I met Mr. Johnson was at a Fidelity Advisor Council event. What I remember most from that meeting is his generosity with his time and his truly unique ideas. as he answered all the questions posed by a wide circle of advisers who surrounded him to listen intently to every word he uttered.
“In the end, a member of his staff had to pull him off, otherwise I think he would have gone on as long as he could. What a thrill it was to talk to him!”
Munoz recounts a similar brush with grandeur.
“I had the privilege of meeting him in the mid-1990s and then briefly in the early 2000s. Even if you didn’t know who he was, you would instinctively understand that he was a man of conviction, intensity and clarity of mind – just his greeting.”
Deep Boston roots
The Johnson family traces its roots to 1635 in Boston. He was one of New England’s leading philanthropists. He shuns the spotlight and often makes anonymous donations, especially to the visual arts, according to The New York Times.
Johnson’s personal art collection is valued in the tens of millions.
Edward Crosby Johnson III was born June 29, 1930 in Boston and grew up in Milton. He graduated from Harvard in 1954, although he always considered himself an average student.
His move into financial services was accompanied by an entry-level job at State Street Bank. He left for a small mutual fund in which his father, Edward II, had invested. He took control of it in 1946, and never left it, according to The Times.