10 Things You Didn’t Know About FedEx CEO Frederick Smith

FedEx is the dream come true for Frederick Smith who founded and served as their Chairman and CEO, leading the well known delivery company into a high period of productivity. Smith was also a potential candidate for the vice presidential position and running mate for John McCain in 2008. He’s a savvy business man, but how much do we know about him? We checked into Fred Smith’s personal and business life to highlight this extraordinary CEO and found 10 interesting things that you probably didn’t know about him, to share.

1. He’s a native of Mississippi

Smith was born Frederick Wallace Smith, after his father, on August 11 of 1944 in Marks, Mississippi. His dad was also a business man who founded the Dixie Greyhound Bus Line. His dad also established the Toddle House restaurant.

2. He lost his father when he was very young

Fred Smith didn’t grow up with his father to turn to for advice. Although it’s obvious that he inherited his father’s business savvy, sadly, his dad passed away when Smith was just 4 years old. He had left the family in a good financial position with the establishment of two major businesses that kept the cash flow steady. Smith only had a few years with his dad, and he was too young to have gained many memories.

3. He overcame a debilitating disease before adulthood

Smith was born with a birth defect that caused his hips to become arthritis. The disease is known as Legg-Calve Perthes Disease. The condition made it necessary for him to be fitted with leg braces and it was necessary for him to use crutches early in his childhood. Thankfully, by the time that Fred reached the age of 10, he had outgrown the condition and as a high school student, he played football and basketball on the school’s sports team.

4. He was friends with prominent political figures in a college era secret society

When Fred Smith attended Yale University, he joined a secret organization called the Skull and Bones Society. While a member of the group ,he developed a friendship with Senator John Kerry. He also came to know George W. Bush and the two shared membership with the Skull and Bones society as well as being frat brothers in Delta Kappa Epsilon. He and Bush were just acquaintances, but Smith had a close friendship with Kerry.

5. He appeared in “Cast Away” with famous actor Tom Hanks

Frederick Smith played the part of himself in the blockbuster film “Cast Away,” released in 2000. The film was about a FedEx worker who was the sole survivor of a FedEx airline crash, and became marooned on an isolated island where he spent years figuring out how to make it back to civilization. It was fitting that Smith made an appearance in the film as himself.

6. Smith learned more by reading history books than by cracking modern leadership texts

It’s interesting that Smith said he earned more insight about business by studying history. The trends and patterns often repeat themselves and the avid reader had an interest in history. This is where he gained his insights into the best leadership strategies. He learned more from the past and the men who put their strategies into action than he did from the educational texts.

7. He was a decorated Marine Corps pilot

Right after Fred Smith graduated from college in 1966, he enlisted in the military. As a member of the Marine Corps, he earned the level of second lieutenant. He was sent to Vietnam where he served two tours of duty. In the first tour, he was a part of the infantry unit. For his second tour, he was a pilot. During his time in the Marine Corps, he was awarded two Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star.

8. He started a recording studio when he was still in high school

Fred Smith started a small recording studio called Ardent Records while he was still a high school student. The studio was successful in recording R& B and rock music for local bands. He left the company to attend college in 1962. Members of the group continued to run the business which became a nationally known studio, recording and mixing the music for several famous artists.

9. Frederick Smith started Federal Express Corp. in 1971

The name Federal Express was chosen by Smith because he was trying to gain a contract from the Federal Reserve system for transporting checks for the agency. Although he had a few political connections from his college days, he wasn’t successful in getting a contract with them. He still kept the name, and this is how FedEx began. It went far beyond a check courier service and expanded into a company that delivers everything from a light flat document size package or letter, through heavy freight items and the business delivers world-wide.

10. He started FedEx from a concept paper

When Smith was attending an economics course at Yale University, he was charged with writing paper. This is when he designed the concept of an overnight package delivery company that consisted of air freight delivery. The paper was close in its concept to what FedEx has become today. What’s so interesting about this is that FedEx is a raging success, but the paper wasn’t. He was only given a C for his efforts.


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