The heiress to a financial dynasty worked for the family company Fidelity Investments for three decades before her father decided to hand over the reins to her.
Apple from apple tree
Over the 73-year history of Fidelity, the company has had three presidents, and they all bore the name Johnson. Abigail's grandfather founded a business in Boston in 1946. “He received a law degree,” said the grateful granddaughter. - But jurisprudence soon bored him, the thought of doing it for the rest of his life began to annoy. Grandfather was interested in investing, adored exchange trading, gave them more attention and passion than his practice. Soon after the government authorized the creation of mutual funds, he acquired Fidelity, a small office with a financial trading license and one employee. At first, he was entrusted with money management mainly by friends and relatives, but over time, a clientele developed and business began."
Abigail's grandfather - Edward II Johnson - did not set himself the task of getting rich by preserving and increasing other people's capital. He even thought it was not entirely decent to take money for what gave him such pleasure. Luckily for the family, his son Edward III saw things differently. “My father started his career at Fidelity as a simple employee,” says Abigail. - He was also passionate about investing, but he had a broader vision of the business, which his grandfather probably lacked. He wanted to create a sustainable multi-functional structure that would not depend on market cycles. " This is exactly what he did, adding to the portfolio a brokerage department, pension savings management, insurance and everything that could be thought of in the financial services industry at that time.
Edward III did not impose participation in the family business on any of his three children - not even Edward IV, let alone his sisters. In the days of his youth, the family professional tradition was often handed down from father to son under a stick, regardless of inclinations and preferences, and this practice broke more than one life. He did not want such a fate for the children, encouraging them to do what their soul lies in. But Abigail always liked to spend time in her father's office, to follow the auctions. “I was attracted by the energy of emotions and excitement that reigned there,” she later recalled. “I learned the basics of business quite early on from the conversations between my father and my grandfather, but when it came time to choose a profession, I lacked the courage, confidence that I could succeed.”
Abigail graduated from a private school in Cambridge, coming into contact with Fidelity only during the holidays. In her father's office, she earned pocket money by answering calls. Clients did not suspect that the question "How can I help you?" they are asked by the daughter of the president of the company.
After school, Abby decided to preserve another family heritage - the collection of paintings and art objects collected by her father, totaling $ 40 million. Some of the paintings Edward III exhibited at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, over which he took an anonymous patronage. “Anonymity” did not deceive anyone: everyone in the city knew who was hiding under the guise of a “patron-who-cannot-be-named”.
The collection needed a curator, so Abigail entered a small art college in New York to study art. However, the genetically engineered need to advise people about their property was so strong that instead of an internship at a museum, she suddenly took an internship at the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.
The internship convinced Abby that she was born to direct powerful financial flows, and not breathe the dust of centuries in museum storerooms. An unexpected bonus was the acquaintance with the future husband - entrepreneur Christopher McCone, who is very successfully involved in the implementation of new technologies in healthcare. They married in 1988 after Abigail graduated from Harvard Business School.
During her studies, students and teachers were amazed at her modesty - especially in comparison with other offspring of business dynasties, who threw money and enthusiastically measured expected inheritances. Abby led the simple life of a diligent student, used public transportation, avoided unnecessary spending, and never bragged about her family's well-being. “We live comfortably, but without frills,” she says to this day. “Somehow the family didn’t have a habit of luxury, so I don’t have anything at home that would be interesting to show on TV or in a glossy magazine.”
Long way forward and upward
Abigail Johnson's MB diploma didn’t have time to dry, and she was already working at Fidelity … as a simple analyst consultant. “Employees made various assumptions about protectionism,” Abby says. - But the investment business is arranged in such a way that no family ties can hide the lack of qualifications. I advised people how to deal with stocks - sell, buy, or hold on until better times. If, based on my market analysis, clients went broke buying falling stocks, there would be no excuse or forgiveness.”
Abigail's already leisurely career has been slowed twice by maternity leave. Only the interests of her daughters could make her come to work later or leave early to read them a bedtime story. Discreet in appearance, devoid of even a hint of arrogance or pretentiousness, Johnson so successfully hid her occupation that during school sports competitions and matinees, no one singled her out from the crowd of parents as a woman under whose control trillions of dollars slowly but surely crawl (read (See also: "Billionaires: What The Top 20 Richest Women in the World Look Like on Forbes 2019").
Abigail's ascent up all the levels of the Fidelity hierarchy did not affect the family's lifestyle. The old house in Milton, bought by my grandfather, is lost in the woods and rarely sees guests. The entire estate, including the tennis court, is valued at $ 1.9 million - according to one Boston newspaper, the garages of Hollywood celebrities are more expensive. If you need to visit a branch of the company in another state or abroad, Johnson buys a ticket for a regular flight, if there is a need for a car on a trip, he contacts the nearest rent-a-car. She happily volunteers at a homeless shelter or aired art education, curating exhibitions in a museum, but she rarely and reluctantly appears at social events. The only elite entertainment that Abigail allows himself is trips to the ski resorts.
Edward III began to hand over the company to his daughter only in 2012. After becoming president of Fidelity, Abigail, among other things, got into the subordination of her sibling Edward IV, who quickly gave up trying to keep up with his sister and became the head of the company's branch specializing in real estate investments. In 2014, Abigail took over as CEO and two years later as Chairman of the Board of Directors.
By that time, there were no people left in the company who would have believed that the daughter of the former president took his post beyond merit, over the heads of more worthy candidates. Among themselves, employees call the CEO simply Abby, and the general opinion is that no one knows the company in as much detail as she does. From 30 years at Fidelity, Johnson has spent more than a decade as a portfolio manager and has explored all departments from top to bottom, left to right, and topsy-turvy.
If in her private life Abby adheres sacredly to the traditions laid down by her father and grandfather, then she began to modernize the business right away. Relocated the company to a larger building, spending millions on high-tech equipment. Has offered new services such as management of charitable donations. Not immediately, but overcoming the old-school financier aversion to index funds by expanding its clientele to include millennials. While Abby considered index funds to be nasty, not worthy of being touched by Fidelity, even with a very long hook, less fussy competitors went ahead. Johnson quickly caught up and surpassed them, launching the first two index funds in the history of the investment business with no minimum and no commission. “I think the lows have outlived theirs,” says Abigail. - If we try to attract as many different people as possible,to persuade them to a trial attempt to cooperate with the company, it is wrong to set barriers for them in the form of minimums. After all, dealing with small amounts is an interesting challenge.”
Having overpowered herself in this matter, Johnson thought "why not get involved in cryptocurrency" and created the appropriate department. “Millennials want everything fast, technological and cheap,” says Abby. “For them, we launched an automated service that asks only six questions. The patience of a millennial is usually not enough for a more detailed conversation."
The other group of potential investors that is promising from Johnson's point of view, on the contrary, is set for long explanations. Focusing on women, Abigail turns to statistics, according to which 9 out of 10 make financial decisions themselves at a certain period of life. For married people, this period begins after a divorce or the death of a spouse; for single people, it can last a lifetime. “Women invest as well as men, they are very good at assessing the long-term perspective,” says Johnson. “But they lack the confidence to take the first step. They think that it is safer to simply save at bank interest. Most of our clients call themselves 'beginners', even if they already have experience of successful investments."
Abigail Scouts scour schools, colleges and even other commercial organizations in search of gifted young women, whom the company is ready to train and invite for internships. Mrs. CEO complains that depositors are more willing and more confidential to communicate with women consultants, who are sorely few in the investment business. Fidelity's Rising Talents program features her eldest daughter, Julia McCone, who has decided to continue the dynasty.
The company's offices are becoming more comfortable: fewer tables, more sofas. Abby believes that the client and the manager should sit side by side, and not opposite each other, on opposite sides of the faceless government barricade.
A separate article in attracting women both to work in the company and to the use of its services is the policy of total intolerance to sexual harassment (see also: "The ABC of Sexism: Abuse, Ageism and Other Types of Misogyny"). In 2017, Abigail did not hesitate to fire two successful male managers from the Equity Department. One was directly accused of harassment, and the other lost his seat due to "inappropriate speech of a sexual nature." After that, Johnson moved her office to the floor where the dysfunctional department is located in order to personally observe the behavior of its employees. She also drove the entire company through a course of lectures and seminars on the topic “what is harassment, sexism, gender discrimination - and how to behave,so as not to disturb the atmosphere of mutual respect in and out of the workplace. " Abigail Johnson was hailed by women in the financial sector as their heroine. They understand that she alone cannot change the worst traditions of the elite men's club that still reign in the investment business, but they applaud her every step in this direction.
Photo: Getty Images
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