BUSINESS

Fidelity President Rodger Lawson To Retire

03/23/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

BOSTON (Mark, Jewell AP) -- Fidelity Investments President Rodger Lawson is retiring at the end of March after two-and-a-half years reorganizing a company that's now on better financial footing, but also about 9,000 employees smaller than when he arrived.

Fidelity on Wednesday announced the 63-year-old's plans to step down from the No. 2 post at the nation's largest mutual fund company. But Fidelity, which has broadened its financial services far beyond mutual funds, left unanswered who will replace Lawson's boss.

At 79, Edward "Ned" Johnson III remains CEO and chairman. He's held those titles since 1977 at Boston-based Fidelity, in which his family owns a 49 percent stake. Key employees own the rest.

Speculation about who will replace Johnson and when -- including the possibility that his daughter, Abigail Johnson, will be the successor -- has persisted for years. In announcing Lawson's retirement on Wednesday, Fidelity had little to offer on Ned Johnson's future. Fidelity has a succession plan, but the privately held company hasn't disclosed details.

"He will be around for a while," Lawson told The Associated Press, noting that Johnson "will be a young 80" when his birthday comes up in June.

Lawson, joined by two other executives in an interview that didn't include Johnson, said he will remain an adviser to Fidelity.

His departure as president isn't a surprise. When Johnson tapped Lawson for the post in July 2007, Lawson said he didn't expect to stay more than a few years at a company where he had worked as a manager in the late 1980s, before joining Prudential Financial Inc.

As Fidelity, Lawson helped guide the company through market turmoil that forced it and many rivals to cut back as plunging asset values ate into revenue from money management fees.

"It's been a fairly brutal two-and-a-half years," Lawson said.

Fidelity in 2007 counted more than 46,000 employees. Now, the total is about 37,000, after a series of layoffs completed last year plus attrition and a reorganization of business units.

Fidelity's more than 400 mutual funds have been spotty in recent years, and the company has faced growing competitive challenges from Vanguard Group and Capital Group's American Funds.

Lawson responded by demanding greater accountability, tying managers' compensation closely to financial performance within business units, and the investment performance of its fund managers.

Before Lawson, Fidelity "was sort of becoming like a bank where people show up for their paycheck," said Jim Lowell, a former Fidelity employee who runs the independent newsletter FidelityInvestor.com. "Under Lawson, Fidelity once again became a place where performance mattered."

"He really leaves Fidelity in better shape then when he came in as president," Lowell said.

For now, Fidelity's nine-member executive committee will collectively assume Lawson's duties. That group includes Abigail Johnson, who heads the Fidelity unit in charge of personal and workplace investing. It's uncertain whether Ned Johnson will name Lawson's successor, or leave the president's post vacant.

Fidelity on Wednesday also offered an update on its 2009 performance:

-- At year's end, total assets were $3.2 trillion, up 23 percent from $2.6 trillion a year earlier. Much of the increase was driven by stock market gains, and the assets are still 4 percent below year-end 2007, just after the market hit its historic peak.

-- Of the total, $1.24 trillion is in mutual funds Fidelity manages and $1.22 trillion is in assets for which Fidelity performs record-keeping and other services. Another $773 billion is in mutual funds that other companies manage but Fidelity distributes.

-- Fidelity-managed funds -- including fixed-income -- outperformed 74 percent of their peers last year, the company said, citing internal data blending numbers compiled by two outside fund trackers, Morningstar and Lipper. That's up from 56 percent beating their peers in 2008.

-- Fidelity's stock funds beat 66 percent of their peers last year, a turnaround from 2008, when they beat just 36 percent.

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