Exclusive Interview With Frederick W.smith-Founder Fedex


I was a student at Yale and wrote a paper about the computerized society that was on the horizon. It was pretty clear then with IBM, you know, installing the big computers around that the world was going to change. And the paper was about how this was going to change a lot of things. And in particular, it was going to change the way things had to be distributed and moved to support those automated devices. The solution was in my mind to have an integrated air and ground system, which had. Never been done and to operate not on a linear basis, where he tried to take thing from one point to another, but operate in a systemic matter manner, sort of the way a bank Clearing House does, you know they have a bank Clearing House in the middle of all the banks that everybody sends someone down there, and they swap everything around well that had been done in transportation before the Indian post office, the French post office. American Airlines had tried a system like that.

Shortly after World, War. Two, but the demand side and the supply side, hadn't, really, not, you know, met at an appropriate level of maturation by the early 70s, when I had gotten out of the service. It was very clear that this new society was coming in earnest. And so at that point I said, what the hell, you know, let's try to put it together and that's, how FedEx came to be. And then from that point forward the requirements for this type of system were so profound.

And so big, really for the next 25 years to this date. We've. Simply been running just to keep up with the requirements and that's, what led to the hundreds of planes and the thousands of trucks? I wish, it was something that I could say was I was so smart.

It was just like Pogo. The possum said, you know, if you want to be a great leader or find a big parade and run in front of it and that's, what we've been doing for the last quarter-century, the Marine Corps, particularly about I think how to treat people lead people, which has played a big role in FedEx, a. Big part of the employee relations systems, and all that we have at our company came from my experience in the service, the Marine Corps is the best when it comes to teaching people how to lead other folks. And so it had a profound experience on me.

Some bad. Some good. When I was in the Marine Corps as a lieutenant I had come up from a good background, went to fine University at Yale, I wasn't, exactly exposed to folks that were in the blue-collar professions and occupations. And then. Here, I was in the Marine Corps and became a platoon leader, and I was surrounded by kids like that I maybe was three years older than they were I was 21.

They were 18. But these were youngsters from very different backgrounds than I was, you know, blue-collar backgrounds, steelworkers and truck drivers and gas station folks. And there we were out in the countryside in Vietnam living together eating and obviously going through all sorts of things I think I came up with a very, very different. Perspective than most people that end up in senior management positions about what people who wear blue collars think about things and how they react to things, and what you should do to try to be fair to those of those folks.

So in that regard, it was an invaluable experience, and a great deal of what FedEx has been able to accomplish was built on those lessons I learned in the Marine Corps. It was ridiculous to try to put this system together was which required so much upfront money. And.

Required changing a lot of government regulations, but I didn't know that at the time and I think probably my experience in the service where the currency of exchange in FedEx was just money. You know what in people's arms and legs or lives. And so my perspective on it were been perhaps a bit more I, don't know how you'd say it I was willing to take a chance because losing wasn't the worst thing in the world that could happen to be I had seen that very clearly. We run out of money. And we. Didn't have all the regulatory requirements. We needed half sisters were up in arms, because it looked like we're going to lose some money.

I mean, everything was going wrong, except the fundamentals of the business were we're, proving every single day that the idea was right. I mean, every single day, the traffic was going up. And so eventually everything came right and worked out fine. We decided a long time ago that percentages were not acceptable to our customers. In other words, 99% sounds great.

Unless you're the 1% who we don't deliver for, so we never talk about percentages. We built a management system, which measures problems on an absolute basis. And the secret is as traffic or volume increases the number of complaints have to go down on an absolute basis. Only we've got to get better and better year after year as time changed and markets changed and people's expectations changed. We changed with them. For example, when it became obvious that people wanted to interface with FedEx. Electronically many years before people were doing this.

We built an electronic interface system that allowed them to do business with us when the internet came on the horizon. We built versions of that that allowed people to interface with FedEx over the internet. And now they're, you know, millions of people doing business with FedEx every day, electronically it's, not like we're carrying sand and gravel. You know, we're carrying chemotherapy drugs and important manuscripts and electronic. Parts and pieces for airplanes that are grounded. So when we pick it up and say, we're going to have it there early the next morning?

I mean, we have to deliver there's, nothing else to it. So putting the guarantee in place was much more significant internally than it was externally, because most of our customers based on the experience I've had with if they believe we'll deliver. But if when we said to all the employees, you know, this is guaranteed if we don't get it there, I mean, we don't get paid the.

Reason I never lost confidence is because I never believe that the consequences of losing were as bad as some other. People might have thought, you know, oh my goodness I've lost my money, or what have you I mean, I just wasn't motivated along those lines, and I was very very very sure that what we were doing was extremely significant and was destined to be successful. So that's, the definition, I think of an insane person or a zealot and most entrepreneurs I think you would find have that sort of. Green wire late in there just a little crosswise, and they begin to get focused on something, and they believe in the idea or themselves far beyond what they probably should, we're. The thing that binds everybody else together and successfully navigating from a mostly national economic structure to now, a global structure with different types of cultures and governments. And what have you mean? All you have to do is pick up the newspaper and see it every day, and it's going to be significant that.

The United States and FedEx every year that goes by does better in the way we deal with other cultures and is respectful of other people's points of view and makes a contribution and doesn't become one of the problems in the world you.

Dated : 21-Apr-2022

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