Edward “Ned” Johnson III, who built Fidelity Investments into a giant financial-services firm and helped shape the money-management industry, died on Wednesday. He was 91.
In a LinkedIn post on Thursday, Abigail Johnson, chair and chief executive of Fidelity Investments, said her father died at home in Florida surrounded by family. In the post, Abigail Johnson, who took the helm of the company in 2014 as CEO, noted her father’s love of the stock market and a good debate, and his knack for taking the contrarian view on “just about anything.“
Johnson, who inherited the mutual fund company from his father during the bear market of the 1970s, was instrumental in building the asset-management industry, allowing
investors to participate in the market like institutional investors—which let people invest their money with star stock pickers like Peter Lynch.
In the process, he created an institution himself, with Fidelity ending last year with roughly $11.8 trillion in assets under administration and overseeing almost $4.5 trillion.
“Ned’s real genius was understanding that if he could hire and promote the most successful money managers, then he could create and grow the most successful active-management firm out there—and that is what he did,” says Jim Lowell, who first met Johnson as a child at his grandparents’ summer home in the North Shore of Massachusetts and has followed the company for decades as editor of the Fidelity Investor newsletter.
“Most investors have really bought the passive party line—and that may never change. But what will be forever is that Ned Johnson set out to create a company populated by excellent active managers, and he succeeded,” adds Lowell, who says Johnson became an expert in whatever topic interested him.
One of Johnson’s biggest but less recognized imprints on the industry may be in terms of gender diversity in an industry that has long lagged on this front. “His single biggest impact unquestionably is that he orchestrated a successful transition to leadership between him and his daughter, Abigail Johnson, who is one of the most powerful women in finance,” Lowell says.
Johnson’s death, along with the death of Vanguard Group founder Jack Bogle three years ago, marks a milestone for the industry and a possible turning of the page as the battle between active and passive continues. “With his passing at this moment, there is a question of whether mutual funds as a whole are on their way out,” Lowell says.
Fidelity has also changed with the times. “I don’t think there is any arguing that Fidelity is an institution that serves millions of different investors large and small and has really evolved further from its roots ,” says Ben Johnson, director of global exchange-traded fund research at
“Countless investors have benefited from their broad spectrum of choices, from Fidelity Contrafund to zero-fee index mutual funds and ETFs, and their recently announced first foray into direct indexing. Fidelity has come a long way from where it started.”
Write to Reshma Kapadia at [email protected]