In a rare public appearance, Fidelity Investments chief executive Abigail Johnson interviewed Michael Bloomberg under a dome on City Hall Plaza Friday, covering a wide range of subjects — from how to attract high-tech workers to whether the former New York City mayor would run for president.
Bloomberg downplayed the possibility of a presidential run, but he had harsh words for President Donald Trump, calling out his handling of the environment and immigration issues, among others.
“There is a general feeling around the world that America is no longer an open and welcoming place,’’ Bloomberg said.
The meeting of the powerful Boston-born billionaires was part of HUBweek, an innovation-themed festival founded by Harvard, MIT, Massachusetts General Hospital, and The Boston Globe.
While Bloomberg — never known for being reticent — did most of the talking, a few of Johnson’s questions offered some insights into her thinking. For instance, she asked what cities could do to innovate, and how high-cost areas like Boston and New York could become more affordable for workers.
“There’s not enough real technology talent in the country right now to go around,” she said.
The 55-year-old Fidelity chief, who last year succeeded her father, Edward C. “Ned” Johnson III, as chair of the mutual fund and brokerage giant, spoke before a friendly audience. Her husband and mother were in attendance, as was former Fidelity Magellan fund manager Peter Lynch.
At one point, Bloomberg said his family members are prevented from working at the media and financial information company he owns. But Johnson’s rise at family-owned Fidelity, he joked, “has worked out OK.’’
Johnson remained steadfastly neutral on politics, while Bloomberg took several pointed swipes at Trump. But she did ask him if he had advice to help the UK get out of its Brexit “mess,” in the wake of its vote to split from the European Union. Bloomberg said it was hard to understand why Great Britain would want to let London fall from its preeminent perch in the financial world.
“I thought it was the single stupidest thing any country’s ever done. But then we trumped it,’’ he said.
Johnson pointedly asked Bloomberg if he planned to run for election. “If not you, who? And how do we find the next candidates, if they’re not you?”
Bloomberg said he considered running in the last presidential election, but that as an independent, he determined he couldn’t win. He predicted Trump will complete his first term and run for a second.
When Johnson asked Bloomberg about his views on the future of journalism, he criticized what he called “sensationalist press” aimed at attracting viewers and online clicks. He blamed the media in part — including The New York Times — for enabling Trump’s victory, saying he benefited from nonstop front-page coverage of his outrageous comments.
“We’ve dumbed down the level of the discourse and the sophistication,’’ he said.
Bloomberg made plugs for public education and repeatedly said many of the country’s problems — from poor children not learning to read, to adults who are uninformed voters — are the result of an inferior education system.
“Shame on us,’’ he said.
On a positive note, Bloomberg said the private sector and local governments continue to make strides in the effort to combat climate change. “America is going to make its Paris agreement goals with no help from the federal government whatsoever,’’ he said.
Like her father, Abigail Johnson typically avoids the spotlight. But she has in recent months been raising her public profile. She did an interview last month with investor David Rubenstein on Bloomberg Television and at a May technology conference she talked about bitcoin, the digital currency.
This week, Johnson wrote a piece for the Financial Times in which she advocated more closely aligning fund manager pay with investment performance. She is expected to speak later this month in Washington, D.C., at an industry conference.
Beth Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.