Fidelity's new president talks of bears, shows whimsical side

In her first public appearance since being named the top executive of all of Fidelity Investments' key businesses, Abigail Johnson talked about bears, the type with four legs, and why she loves New England.

Johnson, 50, did not talk about the direction of Fidelity or any future plans for the company in a short speech at a dinner on Thursday sponsored by the New England Council.

The regional business group honored Johnson as part of its annual "New Englander of the Year" awards at the Seaport Hotel/World Trade Center in Boston.

"I was raised to believe that New England is the best place on the planet," Johnson said.

It was her first public appearance since Fidelity in August promoted her to run all of the company's main businesses. Johnson reports to her 82-year-old father, Edward C. Johnson III, Boston-based Fidelity's chairman and chief executive since 1977. He did not attend the ceremony.

Fidelity manages $1.6 trillion in assets and is the second-largest U.S. mutual fund company behind Vanguard Group. Fidelity's stock mutual funds have been hurt by investors pulling money out of the investments while showing preference for exchange-traded funds and other passive investments.

But on Thursday night, Johnson said it was a time to celebrate New England. She talked, for example, about how New England has the "best plants, the best grass .. and all that good stuff."

Johnson told an audience of more than 1,000 people how Fidelity's fixed-income operations in New Hampshire are world class and visited by powerhouse Wall Street firms and families of bears who like to "nibble on goodies in the woods."