Ken Fisher plans to step down as CEO of firm

Billionaire behind Fisher Investments has discussed his intentions for years, but succession plan isn't clear

Apr 14, 2015 @ 8:05 pm

By Trevor Hunnicutt

Billionaire Kenneth L. Fisher will relinquish by the end of next year the top executive role at the investment firm he founded in 1979, Fisher Investments, which now manages $60 billion in assets, a spokesman said Tuesday.

The change of guard at Mr. Fisher's firm has caught at least one big investor off guard. A pension plan for employees of the city of Seattle put Fisher on “watch” in February due to the lack of an announced succession plan for Mr. Fisher, according to the official minutes of the pension plan administrator's board meeting.

In an interview, Tony Smith, deputy chief investment officer of Seattle City Employees’ Retirement System, said consistent executive leadership at Fisher Investments could be a concern going forward.

“That’s one of the primary points for the stability of an organization,” said Mr. Smith, whose colleagues learned of Mr. Fisher’s plans to relinquish executive leadership during a conversation with the firm in December. “That, combined with the lack of a succession plan, was the genesis of their concern.”

Mr. Fisher, 64, built one of the largest independent investment advisory firms in the country on the back of unsolicited mailings, magazine columns and a constant stream of books.

In a February interview, longtime brokerage executive John Bunch, who now runs the Mutual Fund Store, described Mr. Fisher as one of the most effective wealth-management marketers, or “lead generators,” outside of the major brokerage firms, such as Merrill Lynch and Charles Schwab.

But Mr. Fisher has talked of his disdain for the concept of wealth management, describing many practitioners as middlemen who extract fees from investors.

Mr. Fisher is also a significant researcher and portfolio manager, acting, among other roles, as one of the managers on Fidelity Investments's $7.2 billion Strategic Advisers Small-Mid Cap Fund (FSCFX). Fidelity did not immediately respond to a request for comment after normal business hours.

$2.9 BILLION

Mr. Fisher's wealth stands at some $2.9 billion, according to an estimate by Forbes, the magazine where Mr. Fisher has served as a columnist for three decades.

A publicist for Camas, Wash.-based Fisher Investments said in an emailed statement that Mr. Fisher has “openly stated” his intentions to step down in the year after his 65th birthday, on Nov. 29, “for some years.”

“Nothing about that has changed,” according to the statement.

Bill McBride at Bryant Park Financial Communications in New York, a public relations representative for Mr. Fisher, said he expected Mr. Fisher to continue at the firm in some capacity after he relinquishes the CEO role, perhaps as chairman of the firm's board or as chief investment officer. He said a successor would likely be chosen from within the firm's ranks of 1,000-plus employees.

An often unfiltered public presence, Mr. Fisher positioned himself as a financial-markets clairvoyant, offering regular stock tips and once describing Pacific Investment Management Co.'s now-amended theory of the “New Normal” as “idiotic.”

He once told an InvestmentNews reporter he would teach a plaintiff's lawyer who brought an arbitration case against his firm "a lesson he won't forget."

And Mr. Fisher has said the RIA industry, of which he is a part, could be subsumed by broker-dealers if regulators require both kinds of financial advisers to abide by a more-stringent, “fiduciary,” standard.

His father, Philip A. Fisher, was also a prominent book author, an advocate of buy-and-hold stock investing and an influence on Warren E. Buffett. The elder Mr. Fisher died, at 96, in 2004.

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