Frederick W. Smith
Frederick Wallace Smith
August 11, 1944
|Education||Yale University (BA)|
|Occupation||Chairman and CEO, FedEx|
|Net worth||US $5.4 billion (December 2017)|
|Service/||U.S. Marine Corps|
Purple Heart (2)
Frederick Smith was born in Marks, Mississippi, the son of James Frederick Smith—who (before age 20) dropped his first name, expressing a preference to be known as Fred or Frederick—the founder of the Toddle House restaurant chain and the Smith Motor Coach Company (renamed the Dixie Greyhound Lines after The Greyhound Corporation bought a controlling interest in 1931). Smith Snr. died when Fred Smith, the son, was only 4, and the boy was raised by his mother and uncles.
Smith was crippled by bone disease as a small boy but regained his health by age 10.
In 1962, Smith entered Yale University. While attending Yale, he wrote a paper for an economics class, outlining overnight delivery service in a computer information age. Folklore suggests that he received a C for this paper, although in a later interview he told a reporter, "I don't know what grade, probably made my usual C," while other tales suggest that his professor told him that, in order for him to get a C, the idea had to be feasible. The paper became the idea of FedEx (for years, the sample package displayed in the company's print advertisements featured a return address at Yale). Smith became a member and eventually the president of the Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity and the Skull and Bones secret society. He received his bachelor's degree in economics in 1966. In his college years, he was a friend and DKE fraternity brother of George W. Bush. Smith was also friends with John Kerry and shared an enthusiasm for aviation with Kerry and was a flying partner with him.
Marine Corps service
After graduation, Smith was commissioned in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving for three years (from 1966 to 1969) as a platoon leader and a forward air controller (FAC), flying in the back seat of the OV-10. Much mythology exists about this part of his life; Smith was a Marine Corps "Ground Officer" for his entire service. He was specially trained to fly with pilots and observe and 'control' ground action. He never went through Navy flight training and was not a "Naval aviator" or "pilot" in the military. Individuals who completed Navy flight training and became a "Designated Naval Aviator" (pilot) were obligated to serve six years at the time.
As a Marine, Smith had the opportunity to observe the military's logistics system first hand. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam, flying with pilots on over 200 combat missions. He was honorably discharged in 1969 with the rank of Captain, having received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and two Purple Hearts.
His Silver Star citation reads:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to First Lieutenant Frederick Wallace Smith, United States Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving as Commanding Officer of Company K, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division in connection with operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam. On the morning of 27 May 1968, while conducting a search and destroy operation, Company K became heavily engaged with a North Vietnamese Army battalion occupying well-entrenched emplacements on Goi Noi Island in Quang Nam Province. As Lieutenant Smith led his men in an aggressive assault upon the enemy positions, the North Vietnamese force launched a determined counterattack, supported by mortars, on the Marines' left flank. Unhesitatingly rushing through the intense hostile fire to the position of heaviest contact, Lieutenant Smith fearlessly removed several casualties from the hazardous area and, shouting words of encouragement to his men, directed their fire upon the advancing enemy soldiers, successfully repulsing the hostile attack. Moving boldly across the fire-swept terrain to an elevated area, he calmly disregarded repeated North Vietnamese attempts to direct upon him as he skillfully adjusted artillery fire and air strikes upon the hostile positions to within fifty meters of his own location and continued to direct the movement of his unit. Accurately assessing the confusion that supporting arms was causing among the enemy soldiers, he raced across the fire-swept terrain to the right flank of his company and led an enveloping attack on the hostile unit's weakest point, routing the North Vietnamese unit and inflicting numerous casualties. His aggressive tactics and calm presence of min [sic] under fire inspired all who observed him and were instrumental in his unit accounting for the capture of two hostile soldiers as well as numerous documents and valuable items of equipment. By his courage, aggressive leadership and unfaltering devotion to duty at great personal risk, Lieutenant Smith upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service."
In 1970, Smith purchased the controlling interest in an aircraft maintenance company, Ark Aviation Sales, and by 1971 turned its focus to trading used jets. On June 18, 1971, Smith founded Federal Express with his $4 million inheritance (approximately $23 million in 2013 dollars), and raised $91 million (approximately $525 million in 2013 dollars) in venture capital. In 1973, the company began offering service to 25 cities, and it began with small packages and documents and a fleet of 14 Falcon 20 (DA-20) jets. His focus was on developing an integrated air-ground system, which had never been done before. Smith developed FedEx on the business idea of a shipment version of a bank clearing house where one bank clearing house was located in the middle of the representative banks and all their representatives would be sent to the central location to exchange materials.
In the early days of FedEx, Smith had to go to great lengths to keep the company afloat. In one instance, after a crucial business loan was denied, he took the company's last $5,000 to Las Vegas and won $27,000 gambling on blackjack to cover the company's $24,000 fuel bill. It kept FedEx alive for one more week.
In addition to FedEx, Smith is also a minority owner of the Washington Redskins of the National Football League (NFL). His son, Arthur Smith is the offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans. This partnership resulted in FedEx sponsorship of the Joe Gibbs NASCAR racing team. Smith also owns or co-owns several other entertainment companies, such as Alcon Entertainment.
A DKE Fraternity Brother of George W. Bush while at Yale, after Bush's 2000 election, there was some speculation that Smith might be appointed to the Bush Cabinet as Defense Secretary. While Smith was Bush's first choice for the position, he declined for medical reasons — Donald Rumsfeld was named instead. Although Smith was friends with both 2004 major candidates, John Kerry and George W. Bush, Smith chose to endorse Bush's re-election in 2004. When Bush decided to replace Rumsfeld, Smith was offered the position again, but he declined in order to spend time with his terminally ill daughter.
Smith was a supporter of Senator John McCain's 2008 Presidential bid, and had been named McCain's National Co-Chairman of his campaign committee. Some had speculated that Smith might have a role as an economic advisor in a theoretical McCain administration.
Smith was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame and also awarded the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement in 1998. He was inducted into the SMEI Sales & Marketing Hall of Fame in 2000. His other awards include "CEO of the Year 2004" by Chief Executive Magazine and the 2008 Kellogg Award for Distinguished Leadership, presented by the Kellogg School of Management on May 29, 2008. He was also awarded the 2008 Bower Award for Business Leadership from The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is the 2011 recipient of the Tony Jannus Award for distinguished contributions to commercial aviation.
While CEO of FedEx in 2008, Frederick W. Smith earned a total compensation of $10,434,589, which included a base salary of $1,430,466, a cash bonus of $2,705,000, stocks granted of $0, and options granted of $5,461,575. In June 2009, Smith expressed interest in purchasing the controlling share (60%) of the St. Louis Rams from Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez. In 2009, Frederick W. Smith earned a total compensation of $7,740,658, which included a base salary of $1,355,028, a cash bonus of $0, stocks granted of $0, options granted of $5,079,191, and other compensation totaling $1,306,439.
In March 2014, Fortune Magazine ranked him 26th among the list of "World's 50 Greatest Leaders"
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- Profile in Fortune Magazine's Innovators Hall of Fame
- Article by Smith on how Fedex came to be, includes the story of the paper he wrote while at Yale.
- USA Today Q&A on his love of history
- Chief Executive Magazine Names Fred Smith 2004 CEO of the Year
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