frederick smith frederick smith

Frederick Smith may be living the dream of every student. In 1965 as an undergraduate at Yale University, he submitted a paper in an economics class proposing the idea of a service that would guarantee overnight delivery. He received a "C" for the assignment. With self-effacing humor, Smith later told an interviewer, "to a ne'er do well student like myself, the grade was acceptable." The paper was the germ of Federal Express, a multibillion dollar company that spawned a new industry.

Following military service with the Marines during the Vietnam War, Smith embarked on creating Federal Express-so named because Smith had originally hoped to transport checks for the Federal Reserve System, a contract that never materialized. Smith's military training helped him understand the organization that would be required to centrally route and reroute packages. Using newly developed computer tracking systems and a combination of planes and trucks to deliver packages, Smith had everything sent through Memphis, Tennessee, selected for its favorable weather conditions. There he employed a largely part-time work force, active between 11:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. Outside of Memphis, the company took advantage of underserviced airports in remote locations. After a rocky beginning, during which Smith on one occasion met his payroll demands with gambling winnings, Federal Express convinced the American public of the importance of knowing important information could be sent and received overnight. As the Wall Street Journal reported in 1989, "Smith's entrepreneurial plan rested on a single concept-reliability."