Close this search box.
Close this search box.

FedEx’s Fred Smith Still Going Strong After 46 Years As CEO

FedEx reported a record $60 billion in sales in fiscal year ending in May 2017.
(L-R) FedEx Corporation Chairman, President and CEO Frederick Smith talks with House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA)

The bright idea for FedEx came from a college term paper that founder Frederick W. Smith’s wrote while at Yale in 1965.

After graduation and then serving in Vietnam with the Marines, Smith returned to the U.S. and launched FedEx in 1971. The fledging startup lost lost $29 million in its first 26 months, but Smith found a way to keep the company afloat by winning $27,000 at the blackjack tables in Vegas.

Flash forward 46 years, and FedEx reported a record $60 billion in sales in fiscal year ending in May 2017 after recent acquisitions, including TNT Express, and an $1.8 billion investment in aircraft.

Smith told Fortune that the key to his success is “having an effective strategy and everyone understanding what that strategy is.” Part of that strategy is fostering a culture of innovation at FedEx so that every one of the company’s 400,000 employees understands that “you have to change constantly.”

“There’s an old saw, I don’t know who said it but whoever it was, was pretty smart,” Smith says. “If you don’t like change, you’re going to hate extinction.”
Since founding FedEx in 1971, he has been an active proponent of regulatory reform, free trade, and “open skies agreements” for aviation around the world. Most recently, he has advocated for vehicle energy-efficiency standards and a national energy policy.

Smith is co-chairman of the Energy Security Leadership Council, a trustee for the United States Council for International Business, and a member of the Business Roundtable. He served as chairman of the U.S.-China Business Council and is co-chairman of the French-American Business Council.

He’s No. 59 on Chief Executive and RHR International’s CEO1000 Tracker, a ranking of the top 1,000 public/private companies.


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.