Abigail Johnson is nearing the summit of the Mount Everest of mutual funds, Fidelity Investments.

In May, the daughter of chairman Edward C. "Ned" Johnson III was elected to succeed her father as chair of a powerful board that oversees 161 fixed-income and asset-allocation funds - about half of the $1.2 trillion that the company manages.

The news supports the widespread expectation that Johnson, who started with Fidelity as an analyst two decades ago, will one day succeed her 78-year-old father as the leader of the largest mutual fund firm. She is already vice chair of Fidelity's parent company and heads its huge personal and workplace investing unit.

Johnson, who is the granddaughter of Fidelity's founder, Edward C. Johnson II, has long sidestepped questions about her future: In an email, she says she is "focused on my current task at hand."

That task has certainly given her plenty to focus on. The past year's market losses have been brutal for almost all investors, and at Fidelity, the turmoil led to record numbers of calls from customers seeking guidance. "The most important thing we did was to focus all Fidelity employees on the immediate needs of our customers," she says.

Johnson led the fast rollout of a national campaign featuring thousands of free educational seminars in Fidelity branches, several large-scale educational events in metro areas for its 401(k) participants, and numerous online Webinars available through clients' workplaces. The company called customers directly to encourage reviews of their finances and investments, and it had seasoned executives talk corporate clients through the crisis through Webcasts.

Fidelity's total number of retirement plans actually increased during the crisis - an outcome that should do nothing but strengthen the case for Johnson's leadership ability.

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