In the few interviews she grants, Fidelity Investments' Abigail Johnson is invariably discreet on the question of whether she wants to one day run the firm founded by her grandfather.

But with her appointment this past spring as head of all of Fidelity's distribution channels, Johnson appeared to move one step closer to someday replacing her 80-year-old father, Edward C. "Ned" Johnson 3rd, as chief executive of the country's largest mutual fund firm.

Johnson started at Fidelity 22 years ago as a research analyst, eventually working her way up to head of asset management and president of Fidelity's workplace savings unit before being named to her current post. In addition to running the largest organization at Fidelity, she is vice chairman and director of FMR LLC, its holding company.

In an e-mail reply to questions, Johnson says she has had a range of mentors and role models over the years.

"A theme that emerges for me from all of those leaders is the concept of personal accountability," she wrote, "and a willingness to shine a light on the challenges, as well on as the successes, which fosters a culture geared toward innovative thinking and continuous improvement."

By all accounts, Johnson, who is ranked by Forbes as the 48th-richest person in the world, has proven to be an able leader. Reporting directly to her father, Johnson now leads more than 22,000 employees in Fidelity's workplace investing unit, retail brokerage operation and institutional businesses. (Fidelity has 37,000 employees overall and assets under administration of $3.3 trillion).

"My impression is that she has done an excellent job wherever she's been assigned at Fidelity-in a very low-key way," says Burton Greenwald, a mutual fund consultant in Philadelphia. "I think everyone gives her high marks for being a very competent leader."

Aside from her work at Fidelity, Johnson says she places great importance on charitable giving. In particular, she supports education, health care and the arts personally and through Fidelity's foundation. And she does it, not surprisingly, in an inconspicuous way.

"My approach is to support these causes in a private way, maintaining the focus on helping the charitable organizations achieve their missions," she says.

Fidelity has not announced a successor for Ned Johnson and, with her father at the helm Abby Johnson can stay out of the spotlight-for now.

"When and if she becomes CEO, that may well change," says Greenwald.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.