As one of the mutual fund industry's current behemoths, Fidelity Investments earns abundant scrutiny from watchful investors. Last week's retirement announcement from Fidelity's chief operating officer definitely got their attention. While the news invites speculation regarding the new heir apparent for Fidelity's top spot, the more pressing question is what this move means for Fidelity's fundholders.
Room at the top
Fidelity COO Bob Reynolds' retirement alone is enough to draw the fund world's notice. However, Reynolds was also widely seen as the heir apparent to chairman and chief executive Ned Johnson. His departure has fueled speculation that Abigail Johnson, the CEO's daughter, who currently heads up the Fidelity Employer Services division, may have reassumed her former place as her father's successor. But in Reynolds' absence, the company has announced that Ellyn McColgan, the current president of Fidelity Brokerage, will take on new responsibilities, including distributions and operations. Insiders now wonder whether McColgan has become the next likely candidate to succeed the CEO.
These management changes come as Fidelity wraps up a revamp of its stock-picking operations in an effort to revive fund performance, including greater emphasis on superior research and hiring more experienced analysts. Fidelity is also fighting the effects of lower asset inflows for its funds, compared to rivals Vanguard and American Funds.
No trickle-down effect
High-level shakeups at a fund company are never reassuring. Ideally, shareholders want some level of stability among executives. But I don't think these management changes directly affect Fidelity funds' day-to-day operations.
It's always smart to monitor upper management, but shareholders should be far more concerned with the tenure and stock-picking abilities of their particular funds' managers -- not their bosses, or their bosses' bosses. The executive shuffle doesn't seem to herald any meaningful changes to any of Fidelity's funds. (Still, if you're thinking about buying, don't neglect to do your due diligence first!)
Fidelity's management change might be more worrisome at a smaller company, one more dependent on executive management for portfolio decisions -- but that's obviously not the case here. And since Fidelity doesn't manage all its funds based on one overriding investment philosophy -- as Royce Funds or Dodge & Cox do -- there's even less concern that a shakeup at the top will alter individual fund managers' investment processes. If you own any Fidelity funds, don't worry. Keep an eye on what's going on with your own funds, and ignore the shuffling at the top of the food chain. You'll sleep much better that way.
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