Mother of five juggles family and work as head of global fund house Franklin Resources
Jenny Johnson is a divorced mother of five children but that hasn’t prevented her from successfully juggling family and business as the first female president in the 70-year history of Franklin Resources, the holding company of US investment firm Franklin Templeton.
Behind her success, she credits the firm’s supportive policies which allowed her to lead a diversified management team, and she also paid tribute to the achievements of her own mother.
“I have five children aged between 16 to 26. But my mother had seven children while she went back and graduated from Stanford medical school in California. She is a great role model for me as I saw somebody who can balance being a great mother with someone pursuing her goals,” Johnson said in an exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post during a visit in Hong Kong.
Set up by Johnson’s grandfather Rupert Johnson in 1947, the fund house was named after Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the US. The company is best known to Hong Kong investors for its star fund manager Mark Mobius, executive chairman of Templeton Emerging Markets Group which started investing in emerging markets in the 1980s.
Johnson joined the firm in 1988 and has worked in several departments from administration to investment. She joined the senior leadership team in 1995, has been co-president since October 2015 and was named president in December 2016.
The company manages over US$744.7 billion in assets for customers worldwide.
Franklin Templeton’s gender diversity policies helped her climb the corporate ladder in the fund industry, which is still considered a man’s world. About 25 per cent of is employees who manage investments are female, compared with an industry average of about 10 per cent.
In terms of senior management, around 35 per cent of the company’s senior executives are female, compared with an industry average of about 13 per cent.
Johnson said a management team with diversified gender, age, race and background would achieve better returns for customers.
“The challenge is that we all like to spend time with people who think like we do. But as leaders, if you want the best outcome for your company, bringing diverse views to the table will help solve problems and come up with new ideas.”
There are an increasing number of female entrepreneurs and investors in the world, which makes it important for female fund managers to be involved as they understand their needs and demands.
“The key for us at Franklin Templeton is to provide a working environment where there is an element of work-life balance. This is particularly important for our female staff as women still, to this day, carry a greater household responsibility than men,” she said.
The company allows staff to have more flexible working hours so that they can sometimes work from home to cater for their personal needs or take care of their family.
“We have leveraged technology to enable staff to work from home. As a global company, it’s a 24 hour day and giving some flexibility to our employees can help them stay with the firm for the long run. We are a people business and the greatest asset is our employee base,” she said.
Technology also allows Johnson to keep close contact with her children when she needs to travel overseas.
“My children, three girls and two boys, are very independent and are supportive of my career. Part of our job as parents is to set ourselves as role models and teach especially our daughters that women can also stand on their own, support themselves and be self-sufficient,” she said.
In her almost three decades in the fund industry, Johnson named four “P”s as the key to success.
“I truly believe in four ‘Ps’ when it comes to leadership – people, passion, purpose and persistence. The first ‘P’ stands for people and the key is to surround yourself with a great team. The second is passion because if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life. Believe in the purpose of what you do, stay focused and continue to do what is right for your customer. Persistence - when it gets hard that’s the time you should keep working at it. Very often, the difference between success and failure is just not giving up,” she said.
“I never consider myself a female executive but I always position myself as a professional executive. There is always someone who is biased about gender but my advice is not to waste your energy or pay attention to those people. Just focus on getting your job done in a professional way and you will be successful, regardless if you’re a man or a woman,” she added.
Johnson also advised that women don’t need to give up child birth for their career.
“My advice to other women is don’t wait to have children if you are in a situation where you want to have one. I know too many women waited too long to have children and they had trouble doing so.”
Johnson said emerging markets in Asia, particularly mainland China, are important markets to the company, and now represent around 25 per cent of its global business.
“Asia is the fastest growing market worldwide. There are many markets opening up, such as the two stock connect schemes that allow international investors to invest in mainland China, which have provided huge opportunities for us,” she said.
MSCI on Tuesday announced it will add 222 A-shares into its benchmark emerging markets index, a move generally seen as a milestone for the mainland in getting recognition from the international financial world.
Looking ahead, Johnson is positive on the development outlook of China and other emerging markets.
“We are really excited and optimistic about Asia and mainland China,” she said. Growing wealth in the region has led to a strong demand for professional fund managers to invest on behalf of these customers.
Although some investors opt for cheaper, passive fund managers that use Exchange Traded Funds that track indices, Johnson believes in active fund management.
“When money just goes irrationally into stocks without some fundamental review, we think there is a risk. There is a place for both active and passive investment, but a risk-adjusted portfolio is really important.
“Our 760 investment professionals across the globe dedicate their entire time researching companies and identifying investment opportunities. For people who cannot put that much time into doing the same, you can let the experts do the hard work for you.
“My investment advice is to have a diversified investment portfolio and not to put all eggs in one basket. The other thing is to save up money every month for investment. A disciplined approach to investing would mean that one can enjoy the benefits of dollar cost averaging, a long term and better investment return without having to worry about short term volatilities,” Johnson said.