It was an unusual sight: 180 Fidelity Investments mutual fund managers, stock analysts, and traders applying their trademark seriousness to garden beds and gymnasium walls.
Chris Bartel, head of global equity research, wielded a circular saw, while research analyst Anmol Mehra stained a bench with a brush. Jeff Feingold, manager of the firm’s famous Magellan fund, sported a canvas tool belt and oversaw co-workers hauling mulch and building flower beds.
For several hours Thursday, the A-team from one of the industry’s most powerful financial firms took a break from investment markets around the world to do grunt work, helping the UP Academy Charter School in Dorchester get ready for the coming school year. Sporting green T-shirts, investment managers responsible for nearly $100 billion had their hands in the dirt and schlepped wheelbarrows in the sunshine.
Many companies have community service days. And while Fidelity is well known in philanthropic circles, the company — and its owners, the Johnson family — generally eschew publicity of their charitable endeavors. So the cleanup at UP Academy offered a rare public showing of the investment giant’s civic side.
“Traders, we’re kind of closed in,’’ said Scott Eberhardt. He and his fellow stock traders are usually tied to their desks from around 6 every morning and connect with colleagues in other departments mostly by phone. “This gives us a chance to see people in a different light. You think, ‘I didn’t know that person could do that.’ ’’
True to form, Fidelity managers approached the work at the local grade school with the organizational zeal of an investment opportunity. Feingold, head of Magellan since 2011, asked that work teams at the school be “well diversified” and pressed to make sure employees’ time would be well spent.
“People get antsy and just want to roll up their sleeves and help out,’’ he said. “Getting 200 people out of the office for four hours is not easy.”
There were inevitable inside jokes. When Peter Dixon, manager of a fund that invests in retail companies, heard that the Fidelity crew would be providing office supplies to the school’s teachers, he asked, “Office Depot or Staples?” to the amusement of colleagues.
Keeping work at bay was a priority. Brian Hogan, president of Fidelity’s equity group, said that while many managers had placed trades in the morning, they would not typically make major moves during the day in reaction to the market.
“I can’t stress enough, try to take the long view,’’ Hogan said, invoking the firm’s familiar mantra for individual investors.
Several employees said it was refreshing to cooperate on a project outside the office. It is the eighth year the equity team has had a service day.
“In Hong Kong there’s no gardening, so this is a treat for me,’’ said Markus Eichacker, head of Fidelity’s Hong Kong office, who was visiting Boston this week.
Not everyone was able to break free for the day. Will Danoff, the longtime manager of Fidelity’s Contrafund, at $106 billion the firm’s largest stock fund, had an earnings call in the afternoon that he could not miss, said his boss, Melissa Reilly, chief investment officer for equities.
Clad in shorts and gardening gloves, she was hunting for a spot to plant some perennials that she was not sure were yellow daisies.
‘People get antsy and just want to roll up their sleeves and help out.’Jeff Feingold, Magellan Fund manager
This being Fidelity, the firm’s executives weren’t ready to completely relax their guard.
Asked if the company was worried rivals might take advantage of so many high-profile investors being out of the office, Dixon, the fund manager, was quick to assure, “The trading desk is fully operational.’’Beth Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @HealyBeth.