UC Davis Prepped President of Fortune 500 Company for Life of Leadership

Jennifer Johnson
Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson, B.A., Physical Education and Economics, ’87

When Jennifer Johnson (B.A., Physical Education and Economics, '87) entered UC Davis, she had dreams of playing on the women’s basketball team. When she was cut, she didn’t spend much time fretting about the loss. Instead, she joined Alpha Phi, and eventually served in student government and as a resident advisor. 

Leadership seems to come naturally to Johnson, mother of five and president of one of the largest global financial firms in the world, a rarity among the paltry 4 percent of women who lead Fortune 500 companies. In 2014, she was one of 10 executives named to Money Management Executive's inaugural list of Top Women in Asset Management and was chosen by her peers as one of Ignites.com's Most Influential Women in Fund Management.

At Franklin Resources, also known as Franklin Templeton Investments, Johnson oversees more than 100 mutual funds and manages an international operation with offices in 35 countries and clients in more than 170.  She says the secrets to her success are an open mind and persistence, traits she honed while an undergraduate at UC Davis.

“I got the opportunity to be a leader at UC Davis, made some mistakes, and learned from my experiences.” said Johnson.

She also cites the sheer size and diversity of cultures and perspectives on campus and her ability to learn from and appreciate others’ perspectives as an important foundation which she readily transferred into her career at Franklin. Johnson’s ability to navigate different worldviews, even different kinds of boardroom cultures, is key to her success.

“Sometimes we aren’t as open to other ideas, but I have learned great lessons from interacting with clients and colleagues in other countries. At Davis, I met kids from all over the world. I got exposure to different views and became more open to other people’s perspectives,” she said. “It’s healthy to be exposed to multiple views.”

The cacophony of ideas, people and social events at UC Davis also granted Johnson endless opportunities to explore her passions and connect with others.

“At first UC Davis was a bit of a shock, but the breadth of experiences was amazing,” she said. “You can easily find your niche and excel. I learned that pursuing what you love can define your experience; suddenly you find others who love the same things you do, and you build a network,” said Johnson, whose Crystal Springs Uplands High School graduating class consisted of 49 people.

As she travels the country and the world, Johnson often finds herself the only woman at the table, but she says, “I don’t think about it. In some cultures, I find that if I am with a male colleague, the other men will direct their questions to him. But I stay focused on the task at hand, and they quickly realize I add value to what we are all trying to achieve. If you are thinking too much about your status, you aren’t going to provide value.”

Finding value in the discovery of new ideas and in the perspectives of others has been the hallmarks of her “serendipitous” career path, according to Johnson who cites her four “Ps” every great leader needs: people, passion, purpose and persistence.

“Get the right team; do what you love and you will never work a day in your life; be passionate about what you do—for example, at Franklin Templeton we don’t just manage people’s money, we help people achieve some of their most important goals, like saving for their children’s education or a secure retirement; and last but certainly not least, don’t give up when it gets hard.”


Jennifer Johnson is president and chief operating officer of Franklin Resources, Inc., a global investment management company, headquartered in San Mateo, California, operating as Franklin Templeton Investments. She served as executive vice president and chief operating officer from 2010 to 2015 and then served as co-president until taking the helm in January 2017. She joined the firm in 1988, just one year after graduating from UC Davis with degrees in economics and physical education. She is also a graduate of the Stonier School of Banking at the University of Pennsylvania. 

— Donna Justice, director of marketing and communications for the College of Letters and Science.