2. Abigail Johnson
President and CEO, Fidelity Investments
Abigail Johnson now in charge of the family business. Her father, Edward "Ned" Johnson 3rd, announced last year that she was succeeding him as chief executive of the mutual fund giant a promotion that was long expected but still generated speculation about the direction of the company.
The handoff has been a smooth one; Moody's Investors Service gave Boston-based Fidelity generally high marks for its leadership changes. While Moody's wasn't as high on the company's profitability and financial flexibility, the overall outlook was for near-term stability, with analysts seeing Johnson, 53, as unlikely to deviate from Fidelity's longtime strategic direction.
Fidelity is America's second-largest mutual fund company, behind Vanguard Group, with nearly $2 trillion in assets under management. And Johnson, with a fortune of about $17 billion, is estimated to be the world's seventh-richest woman. Forbes also ranked her No. 19 among the world's 100 most powerful women ahead of Beyonce (No. 21).
One thing that hasn't changed with Johnson's new responsibilities is her well-documented shunning of the limelight a trait she has in common with her father. She's seldom quoted in the media, even when events shine attention on her, as they did in April. A Securities and Exchange Commission filing showed that Johnson had used some of her personal fortune to fund the initial public offerings of several companies involved in oncology work. Johnson has declined to comment publicly about it, and Fidelity has said the investments were personal.
Johnson has hardly been silent on the role of women in her industry, though. "There are a lot of big legacy organizations with a lot of traditions that tend to be built around men, and that does make it harder for women, I think, compared to other industries, " Johnson said in a 2013 video released by Fidelity.
But she stressed that women often are exceptionally well suited for positions like hers. "There are a lot of aspects of finance that I think can be very good for women, " she said. "In particular the area that I started out in investment management I think is a terrific career for women."
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3. Barbara Byrne
Vice Chairman, Investment Banking, Barclays
The upcoming indie film "Equity" turns our expectations about gender and finance on their head. It's a movie about Wall Street, and virtually all of the key players are women.
The lead character is a female investment banker who's taking a technology company public. The film's director, writer and producers are all women. Much of the financing for the project came from women too. It's fitting that Barbara Byrne, an investment banker who herself has expertise in the tech sector, is a key investor.
But don't confuse Byrne, vice chairman of investment banking at Barclays, with the movie's protagonist. "The character is a different kind of woman than I am, " Byrne says, noting that she raised a family during her banking career, while the film's character is single with no kids.
Byrne has spent nearly four decades in the banking industry, mostly at Lehman Brothers, where she rose to vice chairman before the firm's collapse in 2008. In recent years she has found atypical ways to support the careers of women. Before her foray into the film business, she launched the Barclays "Women in Leadership" index, which allows investors to back companies that either have female chief executives or boards that are at least 25% female.
"Equity, " a drama that was filmed over the summer in New York and Philadelphia, will star Anna Gunn, who played the wife of drug kingpin Walter White on the hit TV drama "Breaking Bad." It is expected to be released next year.
A short blurb from the film's production company refers to Gunn's character navigating scandals and sexism as the company's IPO approaches. It also promises that the movie will spark conversations about the issue of unequal pay for women, and about the current image of Wall Street.
In the wake of movies that portrayed a male-dominated, often misogynistic culture see "The Wolf of Wall Street, " for example "Equity" could mark a turning point in Hollywood's portrayal of the financial sector.
Another film that's currently in development, "Opening Belle, " is slated to star Reese Witherspoon as an investment banker who's juggling family life and work responsibilities in the run-up to the financial crisis. Byrne has no involvement in that movie, which will reportedly be a comedy.
Byrne says that she was drawn to "Equity" because it is by women and about women. She invested an undisclosed amount in the film earlier this year.
"I've always believed in backing women, " she says. "I had a lot of faith in these young women who were actresses and directors."
At the same time, Byrne was aware that the film's producers might have a hard time getting their movie made. She notes that Hollywood, much like the banking industry, doesn't have a lot of women in senior leadership positions.
Byrne's interest in the project only grew stronger when a skeptic warned her that the filmmakers would not be able to raise the funds they needed.
"I just started laughing. 'Oh, really? Sure they will, '" she recalls.
"I thought, 'Well, let's tell the story. Let's back the story that couldn't be told.'"
Byrne's work on the film went beyond her financial backing. She also provided feedback on how to make the movie resemble the day-to-day reality of Wall Street life as closely as possible.
And she spent time with Gunn, offering thoughts about the lead character and how she might behave in certain situations.
"She's a fictional character. But what about her rings true and doesn't ring true?" Byrne says.
4. Diane Offereins
EVP, Payment Services, Discover Financial Services
SUch is the pace of the suddenly technology-soaked payments world that a wide-ranging conversation with one of the industry's most recognizable executives quickly morphs into breaking news.
"Today we announced we are teaming with Samsung Pay, " says Diane Offereins, Discover Financial Services' executive vice president of payment services, during a phone interview in August. "There is a proliferation of mobile and the way it's changing things, especially in our business."
Offereins has been in her job for about a decade, and has worked for nearly three dozen years in the payments industry, dating to a time when these companies moved slowly on adopting innovations. That's obviously changed. Corporate titans like Apple, Google and Samsung are aggressively pursuing mobile payments, and EMV chip cards and a constant flow of new forms of digital commerce guarantee this week will be different from last.