5 Lessons from FedEx CEO Fred Smith

Fred Smith founded FedEx in 1971 with borrowed money and has grown it into a $42 billion company, so it’s safe to say he knows more than a little bit about management.

When Smith spoke with Fortune, he had many great insights that apply to all CEOs.

The top five insights were:

  1. Make reputational intelligence a priority: Your reputation is different from your brand. Smith notes that FedEx sells trust (e.g. the promise that medical equipment will make it to important destinations) and not just package delivery. You need to know what your brand is really about and emphasize it.
  2. Create a culture that is always striving for excellence: FedEx employees have the Purple Promise in which they declare, “I will make every FedEx experience outstanding.”
  3. Don’t hide your failures, but use them to improve: When a video went viral of a deliveryman throwing a computer screen over a fence, Smith didn’t try to hide it. Instead, he talked about it openly and used it as a platform for learning and improving.
  4. Always look to improve your processes: FedEx has never sacrificed service (even if it would be almost unnoticeable to customers) in order to add to its bottom line.
  5. Take advantage of unexpected areas for growth: Did you know that FedEx repairs electronics like iPads and Nooks? The delivery company has the systems in place to transport items to a central repair shop and the technology to fix products. While not the core of its business, it’s still a $15 billion market.

Read: FedEx CEO Fred Smith on… everything

Chief Executive magazine (published since 1977) is the definitive source that CEOs turn to for insight and ideas that help increase their effectiveness and grow their business. Chief Executive Group also produces e-newsletters and online content at chiefexecutive.net and manages Chief Executive Network and other executive peer groups, as well as conferences and roundtables that enable top corporate officers to discuss key subjects and share their experiences within a community of peers. Chief Executive facilitates the annual “CEO of the Year,” a prestigious honor bestowed upon an outstanding corporate leader, nominated and selected by a group of peers, and is known throughout the U.S. and elsewhere for its annual ranking of Best & Worst States for Business. Visit www.chiefexecutive.net for more information.