The wealthiest family in Yankee New England is exactly what you’d expect.

The Johnsons, led by polymathic patriarch Edward “Ned” Crosby III, built a $46.3 billion fortune with Fidelity Investments, whose products shape the finances of about 32 million people worldwide. His daughter, Abigail “Abby” Pierrepont Johnson, now chief executive officer of the family business, is among the most influential people in money management.

Yet for a firm that encouraged a cult of personality around its star fund managers, its biggest shareholders and the family’s intricate web of investments remain very much a mystery. Their empire extends from the Boston Seaport to London, Tokyo and West Texas in businesses ranging from hospitals to fiber-optic communication.

They are arguably Boston's most powerful family and certainly the richest. But they — and their business interests — remain intensely private.  The scant personal details that do surface depict a clan allergic to the limelight, scornful of excess and almost comically unpretentious. This story is based on interviews with more than a dozen people, including friends and business partners, most of whom asked not to be identified because of the family’s aversion to publicity.

For a while, Abby was said to drive a pickup truck. At her local gym in downtown Boston, she was one of the few women who chose to wear the stodgy gym-issued uniform. She flies commercial and rarely dines out.

“Abby is always so understated,” said New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a friend of Abby and her husband, Christopher McKown. Kraft said he tried to meet with the Johnsons for a meal every few months when Ned was more active in the business. “I’ve always enjoyed their company and found them to be down-to-Earth and just great people. It’s a real credit to the family that they come across that way.”

Abby’s social circle, which also includes Boston Red Sox owner John Henry, is small. A rare outing in pre-Covid times included a flight to the U.K. to catch a soccer game with Henry, who’s also the principal owner of the Liverpool Football Club, as well as his wife Linda.

Even their charitable giving is mostly anonymous.

Fidelity, meanwhile, is ubiquitous. It manages 30.8 million brokerage accounts and more than $1.8 trillion in retirement savings. Its myriad funds hold $1.1 trillion of equities, a sum greater than 4% of the value of the S&P 500.

“Next to the Kennedys they are the most important family in Boston, and who ever hears anything about them?” said John Bonnanzio, editor of newsletter Fidelity Monitor & Insight. “There’s just an endless amount of money around the Johnson family and their various trusts.”

Unlike the Kennedys, the family’s politics are hard to discern. Abby donated about $330,000 to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee in 2016, according to Federal Election Commission records. Since then, she has donated more than $14,000 to mostly Republican candidates in five states.

Fidelity’s DNA
Over three generations, the Johnsons have amassed the world’s 8th-biggest family fortune, and it has more than doubled in the past five years as soaring global equity markets pushed Fidelity’s revenue and operating income to records.

The trend underscores the company’s success embracing low and no-cost index funds, products that are antithetical to the firm’s original bread and butter: actively managed mutual funds. It has handled the shift better than competitors like Franklin Resources Inc. and Invesco Ltd., whose market values have slumped in recent years as customers increasingly balked at high fees.

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