Even if you aren’t familiar with his name, you are no doubt familiar with his company. His purple and orange trucks and planes are seemingly everywhere. And the quirky commercials from the 1980s featuring fast-talking Joe Moschitta made his company’s tagline one of the most familiar in the world: “when it absolutely, positively has to be there over night.”
As a student at Yale University in the 1960s, Fred Smith wrote a paper for an economics class that outlined his ideas for creating an overnight delivery service. Although the story may be apocryphal, it is said that the professor gave the paper a “C” because the idea wasn’t feasible. That paper became the blueprint for creating FedEx.
In 1971, Smith took his inheritance and founded Federal Express. He focused not just on package delivery, but on creating an integrated air-ground system that would send all packages to a central clearing house, then distribute them out to their destinations—an idea he borrowed from the banking industry. And one the world was ready for.
Over the past 35 years, he’s had plenty of advice to other small business owners looking to grow their organizations. Here’s a small taste:
“Leaders get out in front and stay there by raising the standards by which they judge themselves—and by which they are willing to be judged.”
“I’m not afraid to take a swing and miss.”
“The riskiest strategy is to try to avoid risk altogether.”
“A manager is not a person who can do the work better than his men; he is a person who can get his men to do the work better than he can.”
“You can’t make people do what’s right. You can lead them, and you can empower them to make the right decision, but if you don’t produce a culture that allows them to do that, then all the rest is just bumping your gums as one of my old business partners used to say.”
“If you’re going to run a high service organization, you have to get the commitment of the people working for that organization right at the start. If you don’t, you’ll never be able to deliver at the levels of expectations of the customer.”
—Fred W. Smith, Entrepreneur and Founder of FedEx