Academy of Achievement Logo
Achiever Gallery
  The Arts
   + [ Business ]
  Public Service
  Science & Exploration
  My Role Model
  Recommended Books
  Academy Careers
Keys to Success
Achievement Podcasts
About the Academy
For Teachers

Search the site

Academy Careers


If you like Frederick Smith's story, you might also like:
Jeffrey Bezos,
Michael Dell,
Bill Gates,
Craig McCaw,
Pierre Omidyar,
James Stockdale
and Ted Turner

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Frederick Smith in the Achievement Curriculum section:

Related Links:
Reference for Business

Share This Page
  (Maximum 150 characters, 150 left)

Frederick W. Smith
Frederick W. Smith
Profile of Frederick W. Smith Biography of Frederick W. Smith Interview with Frederick W. Smith Frederick W. Smith Photo Gallery

Frederick W. Smith Interview (page: 3 / 5)

Founder, Federal Express

Print Frederick W. Smith Interview Print Interview

  Frederick W. Smith

There are a lot of people with ideas, and brains, and potential who don't achieve whatever goals they might have. How do you account for your success? For your ability to do what you've done?

Frederick Smith: First and foremost the idea was a profound idea, as has been shown. Today we have 170,000 employees and $16 billion. As I said, the requirement for this type of a system was so great and was increasing at the time. I just had the good luck to have an idea that was on the tide of history.

I'm sure many other people who've been much more successful would say the same thing. Bill Gates was given the opportunity to make the operating system for IBM and then there was a huge explosion of demand for PCs. I wish it were not the case, but an awful lot of success is being in the right place at the right time. That was a very big part of it.

Naïveté was also a big part. I didn't know that I couldn't do this.

In retrospect it was ridiculous to try to put this system together, which required so much up front 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, it wasn't people's arms and legs, or lives. So my perspective on it was 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 you. I had seen that very clearly.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

So luck, naïveté, willingness to roll the dice to do something productive, were all individual parts of the puzzle.

You had a certain vision. The post office didn't come up with this idea.

Frederick Smith: I was very convinced that the idea was the central feature of the new economy. That without a system like this, it simply wasn't going to be able to work. So I was, in every sense of the word, a zealot. I mean, I felt very strongly that this needed to be done, that it was something that would be extremely useful to people and that it would make the economy and the society and the system work much better than it would work absent that.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

So many things have evolved out of that system. Dell Computer relies on the types of systems that we pioneered. High-tech and high value-added businesses are by far the preponderance of economic activity in this country and increasingly around the world, and these types of business are facilitated by systems like FedEx, or -- I hate to say it -- our able competitors.

There are always detours. What kind of adversities have you had to overcome?

Frederick Smith: I've had all kinds of adversity, but I think you have to put those things in perspective. I have to go back to my experience in the Marine Corps. My life has been a walk in the park compared to the adversity that a lot of people have seen. I've enjoyed every bit of putting the company together. Even the bad parts I learned from. I've enjoyed it immensely, and I enjoy what I'm doing today. I enjoy running the company.

Going to war does give one some perspective.

Frederick Smith: It really does. I can't emphasize that enough. That puts a different perspective on things forever.

From what I've read, 24 years ago this month you were at a low point in trying to make Federal Express happen. Can you tell us something about that?

Frederick Smith: We'd run out of money and we didn't have all of the regulatory requirements that we needed. My half-sisters were up in arms because it looked like we were going to lose some money. I mean, everything was going wrong, except the fundamentals of the business were 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.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

The motivation I had in those days was that I didn't want to let down the people who had signed on with me. It goes straight back to that Marine Corps experience. I wasn't afraid to lose my money. I knew I was right, I knew I had put this thing together properly and that it was going to be all right. That was what stood me in good stead.

You never lost confidence.

Frederick Smith: The reason I never lost confidence is because I never believed 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 important 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 laid in there just a little bit cross-wise. And they begin to get focused on something, and they believe in the idea or themselves far beyond what they probably should.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

Frederick W. Smith Interview, Page: 1   2   3   4   5   

This page last revised on Sep 26, 2016 18:20 EST
How To Cite This Page