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Inspiration from Fred Smith

Estimated Lesson Time: 2 minutes

Frederick W. Smith (1944–) is the Chairman and CEO of Federal Express Corporation; also known as the “father of the overnight delivery business.”

Success is taking criticism lightly, even from those “who know best.” While attending Yale University, Fred Smith wrote a paper on the need for reliable overnight delivery in a computerized information age. His professor found the premise “improbable” and, to the best of Smith’s recollection, he only received a grade of C for this effort.

Success is learning all you can from your current situation. After college, Fred spent a few years in the military. While there, he observed military procurement and delivery procedures carefully. This information helped him to realize his dream of overnight commercial delivery.

Success does not always come quickly. In the first two years of business, Federal Express lost $27 million. Shortly after, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. During this time, Smith still was confident the idea was solid.

Success is being able to negotiate. Thanks to Fred’s negotiating skills, he was able to negotiate his way out of failure and managed to turn FedEx into a multi-billion dollar a year empire.

Success is continued improvement. Smith does not allow FedEx to rest on its laurels. Continuous improvement is said to be one of his fundamental management principles.

Success is fulfilling a need, even if it means creating an entire industry. “Fred Smith is the only man I have ever known who has created an entire industry,” wrote Howard Baker, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, and former U.S. senator from Tennessee.

Success is understanding the importance of keeping employees happy. FedEx has repeatedly been on Fortune magazine’s list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For.”

Success is not fearing failure. In the early 80s, Smith launched Zapmail, a program to electronically transmit documents between FedEx offices. The idea was a costly flop. “I’m not afraid to take a swing and miss,” said Smith in an interview.

Success is remaining flexible. Since Smith founded Federal Express in 1971, he’s kept his business nimble, always changing to meet the demands of the market and consumers.

[Sources: http://www.achievement.org, http://fedex.com, http://www.fortune.com]

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 Some discussion questions (some may not apply to this lesson):

  • Have you implemented this idea in your life? How has it been working for you?
  • Do you have any interesting stories related to this lesson? Do tell!
  • What do you admire most about this person? (success biography days)
    From the Course:
    Personal Development
    Year To Success
    Bo Bennett, PhD

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    Personal Development : Personal Transformation
    Offered by VirversitY
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