Though I did not know Mr. Byrnes personally, I did know he was a highly revered gentleman throughout the halls of Fidelity and the investment community he nurtured. Fidelity remembered Mr. Byrnes here:
BOSTON — The Fidelity Investments family is deeply saddened to announce the passing of William Leo (Bill) Byrnes, its former president and vice chairman, and one of the company’s key leaders as it grew from a Boston-based mutual fund company into a highly diversified global firm. Bill, 96, died peacefully on July 21st surrounded by his loving family. Our hearts go out to the Byrnes family and to all who were touched by this extraordinary gentleman.
“Over the course of more than six decades with Fidelity, Bill assembled an extraordinary legacy,” said Abigail P. Johnson, Fidelity’s Chairman and CEO. “Apart from his enormous contributions to Fidelity’s business, he was also one of the kindest and most thoughtful individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. When I was young, I knew him as a family friend; once I joined the company and during the ensuing years, his counsel was always humbly offered but greatly appreciated.” Johnson continued, “Bill will be missed by many Fidelity associates for his business acumen, sharp wit and friendship. The world is immeasurably better because of Bill. Simply put, Bill Byrnes was one of the best.”
Edward C. (Ned) Johnson 3d, Fidelity Chairman Emeritus, said, “Bill was at the heart of all the major developments at Fidelity over many decades, and our company wouldn;t be where it is today without his insights, creativity, passion and leadership. I truly believe that Bill is one of the best business minds of his generation. I’m grateful for having been able to call him my friend.”
About William Leo (Bill) Byrnes
Born in 1921 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Byrnes graduated from Belmont Hill School in 1940 and was captain of the hockey team. He would later serve on the school’s board for more than 50 years. Jon Biotti, president of its Board of Trustees, said that “Every time he spoke to us, he made our school better.” Byrnes subsequently graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1943 and then served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, from 1943 to 1946.
Upon return from military service, Byrnes—as he would later put it, “without a great deal of direction or commitment”—took a job in the family business, the Hamilton-Lapp Company in Boston, a small chain of retail stores selling women’s shoes and accessories. In his mid-thirties he set out to reinvent himself, eventually turning a spark of interest in the stock market into a firm decision to pursue employment in the growing financial services industry. He knocked on a number of doors before a “very good feeling” about Fidelity’s founder, Edward C. Johnson 2d, landed him at his professional home for the rest of his life.
Byrnes joined Fidelity as a research analyst in 1957, the same year that Edward C. (Ned) Johnson 3d, the son of the company’s founder, also joined as a research analyst. Byrnes and the younger Johnson struck up a partnership, one that would endure for decades. Beginning in the mid-’60s, Byrnes and the two Johnsons, father and son, formed a leadership team that would shape the future vision and direction of the company.
After serving as director of investment research, Byrnes was named executive vice president of the company in 1969, reporting to both Johnsons. In 1972, Byrnes became president of the management company and joined the board of directors; and in 1977 when Ned began his long tenure as chairman and CEO of Fidelity, Byrnes was named vice chairman.
“Bill and Ned were a complementary duo,” said Roger Servison, who joined Fidelity in 1976 and helped lead its pioneering efforts in direct marketing and discount brokerage. “Ned was always filled with energy and ideas, but he wasn’t a logistics guy. So oftentimes Ned would come up with an idea, and Bill was the one who would handle the details and the people management and make it happen. Bill was a great, honorable leader, and the ultimate gentleman.”
Byrnes helped lead the company’s efforts to establish its overseas business, incorporated in 1969 as Fidelity Management & Research Bermuda Limited, and was the lead manager for start-up investment offices in Tokyo (also 1969) and London (1973), and a subsequent name change to Fidelity International Limited (FIL).
In 1979, Byrnes’ Fidelity career took an adventurous turn when it was decided that Fidelity needed to more aggressively grow its still-nascent international business. He moved to London, and what was initially planned as a six-month trip turned into a lengthy tenure. Byrnes was named vice chairman of FIL in 1980 and served in this role until 1989.
Byrnes retired from day-to-day management upon his return to the States, but he was named managing director and vice chairman of FMR, Fidelity’s parent company, in 1990 and continued to be a key voice in the firm’s strategic direction. He served on Fidelity’s board of directors until 2014, then as director emeritus from 2014 until his passing. In addition to his skill as a business builder, strategist, and manager, Byrnes’ grace and low-key style made him a much-loved figure at Fidelity.
In 2017, Ned Johnson and Bill Byrnes both celebrated their 60th year at Fidelity. They stand as the two longest-tenured associates in the history of the company.
Byrnes married twice. In 1942, he was wed to Sybil Griffith, and their son Randall (Randy) was born in 1946. Randy attended the University of Pennsylvania and later Harvard Business School, and spent the bulk of his career in real estate as executive vice president and Washington, DC Regional Manager for the Boston- based Spaulding & Slye Company, which was later sold to Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.
In addition to his son and three stepchildren, Byrnes is survived by his five grandchildren: William Carter, Spencer Dean, Randall William Jr., Connor Even and Lily Bing-Xi.