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Changes at Fidelity clarifying succession picture

Posted by: Aaron Pressman on April 19, 2007

The news out of mutual fund giant Fidelity Investments today that Chief Operating Officer Bob Reynolds is retiring marks the most significant management development at the Boston firm since Reynolds took the number two job seven years ago. Fidelity didn’t name a replacement for Reynolds, instead splitting his duties up among a group of senior executives. But the biggest winner was clearly Ellyn McColgan, who was elevated from president of Fidelity’s brokerage company to a newly created position of president of “distribution and operations.” In that role, she’ll oversee the brokerage plus institutional services, which sells Fidelity products through big banks and brokers, and the firm’s insurance efforts.

McColgan, who I first met for a profile of Fidelity’s brokerage unit two years ago, is moving to the head of the class of possible successors to run the whole shebang. “It’s hard to see whose light is shining brighter than hers,” long-time Fidelity watcher Jim Lowell told me after today’s announcement. Lowell, who edits the newsletter Fidelity Insights, says McColgan has shown more passion for Fidelity and it’s future success than anyone else in the management ranks. I originally had a few lines in that 2005 story about McColgan potentially taking over the firm one day but we cut the bit for space. She’s an impressive woman who clearly commands respect and loyalty from her subordinates. And she’s driven great results at Fidelity’s brokerage.

Fidelity chairman and CEO Edward “Ned” Johnson III, who turns 76 in June, hasn’t publicly named a successor though the firm has said that it has plans in place should anything happen to him. His daughter, Abigail, was once seen as a shoe-in to replace him, especially after she was named to head Fidelity’s crown jewel mutual fund division in 2001. But doubts about that thesis arose in May, 2005, after Abby Johnson was moved to a new role following several years of mediocre fund performance. In today’s announcement, Abby Johnson kept her current duties as head of Fidelity’s retirement and benefits outsourcing unit (which includes the massive 401(K) business) and will share “leadership” for product distribution with McColgan.

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Bloomberg Businessweek’s Ben Steverman focuses on the latest moves in financial markets and emerging trends in stocks, bonds, and funds, always with an eye toward giving readers a better understanding of the sometimes confusing and often chaotic world of money. Standard & Poor’s senior index analyst Howard Silverblatt will also provide his take on companies’ finances and the markets. Voted one of the “Top 100 Finance Blogs” in 2007.

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