What Fred Said

Quotes and Comments from FedEx CEO Fred Smith over the years.

photograph courtesy FedEx

In 1978, when Federal Express raised the then-staggering sum of $72 million in venture capital (it would go public that same year), Memphis magazine was among the first publications in America to put company founder Fred Smith on its cover. Since then, Smith has given many interviews to Memphis and its sister publications, the Memphis Flyer and MBQ: Inside Memphis Business. Here are excerpts from those stories:

On growing up in Memphis:

“It’s a totally different world. It’s almost a different planet. When I was coming up, you were really on the edge where the Eastgate shopping center is. That’s where the Tropical Freeze was, the outpost of urban life then.”


On the location of Federal Express:

“To put a national hub-and-spokes system in place you have certain parameters that dictate where it can be. If you do a hypothetical box, it would start at about Memphis and go up to St. Louis and east to about Columbus, Ohio, and down to just east of Nashville. And you must put your hub in that location. . . . The other criteria were weather, airport infrastructure, political support. We looked at Smyrna Airport in Nashville, we looked at Louisville, but when you put all those things together, Memphis came out on top.”


On Sam Walton, founder of Walmart:

“Sam Walton told me many times, sitting right in that chair where you are, that retailing is about moving things. It’s not about selling things.”


On the first night of operations in Memphis (April 17, 1973):

“It was a pretty grim night.” (In 1996, Smith elaborated: “It was pretty damn dismal. I thought we were going to be buried in shipments. But we weren’t. There were actually two startup nights. The first one was so bad we actually took it down and went back to ground zero and started a month later. That’s why you see two figures [for the first sort date]. It was only like eight packages the first night, so we started the second time.”)


On the failed consolidation referendum in 2010: 

“The fundamental problem in Memphis and Shelby County is we are simply not competitive in terms of the cost of our government structure, and we are losing population, and we are not growing as fast as our peer competitors. It’s just that simple. We are not competitive.”


On FedEx and Memphis:

“One of the things that concerns us a lot as a very large taxpayer is the redundant expenses and the loss of the population due to out-migration. If the voters don’t want to consolidate the governments, they have to consolidate the functions to get to the same economic costs.”


On part-time workers at the Hub:

“I bet between us and UPS we have probably put more kids through college or community college than any other program in America.”


On oil dependence:

“After weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, it is, in my opinion, the biggest economic risk and the biggest military risk this country has . . . If we were producing our diesel or jet fuel from coal or natural gas liquid, and we electrify short-haul transportation, we could cut our petroleum use from 20 million barrels a day to 15 or 14 million. And all those dollars would stay at home.”


On alternative energy and electric-powered cars:

“As great an impact as improved fuel efficiency will have, we must also pursue alternatives to petroleum fuels. Alternative fuel vehicles, particularly those powered by fuels like electricity and natural gas, are an attractive solution because they are powered by domestic fuels whose prices are less volatile than oil.”


On Facebook’s 2012 IPO:

“I have met Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at their headquarters, and it is a fascinating thing that is going to have a huge impact, on marketing in particular. FedEx is a very big user, and I am sure we will be a bigger user in marketing and advertising. If you live on Facebook, we want to be part of that too.”


On retirement (2010):

“I’m not going anyplace for a year, and I doubt it would be three years. But in five years, probably. I would be 71, and this is a job that requires your full attention. But I’m enjoying it. I’m not doing anything in the near term.”  

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