In a true American success story, Vietnam veteran, Yale graduate, and founder of FedEx Frederick W. Smith is now considered the father of the overnight delivery business.
While attending Yale University, Smith wrote a paper on how overnight delivery will be necessary in a technologically advanced and computerized world – and as his professor believed the premise improbable, he only got a C.
When Smith graduated from Yale, he served two tours in Vietnam as a United States Marine. It was then that he saw that the military was able to do something he had only dreamed of – the procurement and delivery of supplies efficiently and rapidly. When Smith left the service in 1971, he immediately founded an express transport business to fulfill his dream. That company was, at the time, called Federal Express. Now, it's just known as FedEx.
Smith raised $80 million to fund his venture, and on his company's first night of operations, fourteen jets transported 186 packages across the country. Unfortunately, few were initially interested in the service, and in the first two years, the company was down $27 million. Smith’s investors' money was long gone, and things looked bleak. But he persevered by renegotiating his bank loans, and the company was able to survive.
Over the years, Smith has been lauded for his loyalty and hands-on approach to business management. He was thoroughly interested in logistics and loyalty and sought to train managers to respect their higher-ups and subordinates, and he constantly pursued innovation. In the 1990s, computer terminals were installed in shipping offices to allow customers access to cutting-edge self-service shipping technology, and in 2015, operations were expanded to Europe.
Smith announced that he would be stepping down at the age of 77 in March 2022. But his legacy will surely live on in the transportation industry and beyond forever.