Service Helped Inspire Creation of FedEx

With the National Service Express nearing its end (27 stops/cities down…3 to go), it’s really incredible to think about all of the conversations that Sean and Matt have had as they traverse America. And in those conversations, it is even more incredible to think what the experience of service will produce in those who gave their time and energy. Friday night I came across one such story.

I was flipping through the TV late Friday evening when I stopped at the Charlie Rose Show. He was interviewing Fred Smith, founder and CEO of FedEx (video below). There are many fascinating stories about the origins of this incredibly impressive company…some true, some urban legend. (One true story is that he went to Vegas to raise money , but only had a few hundred dollars on him. He met a guy on the plane who gave him a $1,000 line of credit which he turned into $25,000 in Sin City.)

Anyway, what most interested me as I listened were two things: 1) Fred’s age when he conceptualized FedEx and 2) a major source of inspiration for FedEx’s innovative model. The founder was in college and his service in the Marine Corps gave him an important insight as to how to design a new way of shipping.

The innovation inspired by the Marine Corps is that FedEx integrates ground and air transportation to key hubs to more efficiently distribute shipments. Says Smith, “The air-ground part of it came from my service in the Marine Corps.” This isn’t that exciting to hear some 35 years later, but that’s not the point. The point is that service — time spent with people you wouldn’t otherwise meet, doing important things you might not otherwise do — creates all sorts of new perspectives and insights that can be applied to a variety of fields.

I’m a huge believer that the depth of one’s innovation is dramatically enhanced by spending time in other fields to see how they operate. I’m constantly telling people that a year of service is not just for people who want a career in non-profits, education, community development, etc. Making the case to do a year of service to someone whose first passion is busines is often a challenge. Not because they are not compassionate, idealistic, or concerned citizens. Rather, I find many think that a year of service feels like they have derailed from the competitive track. We, service proponents, need to alter this perception.

Fred Smith’s story is a big help.

Near the end of this segment of the interview (min. 17), Charlie Rose asks Smith, “So you’d rather have a young man [at FedEx] who went to the Marines than a young man who went to business school?” Smith replies matter-of-factly, “I’d rather have a young man who went to the Marines then went to business school. That would be the best of all worlds.”

Watch the full interview here.


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One response to “Service Helped Inspire Creation of FedEx

  1. Joana

    Hey Team NSE,
    I’ve very much enjoyed and certainly been entertained by your blog entries on your adventures across the US. I’ve learned much more about issues in national service and it’s place in the current political climate by reading your blog, the attached articles, videos, and interviews than I ever would on my own. The vivid descriptions of the interactions with your friends on the Grey Hound buses at times made me feel like I was right there with you, or at least, I may have felt your awe and possible discomfort. Today’s entry however, has prompted me to comment on a more profound level: It’s not just the great esteem that Mr. Smith attaches to serving this country that got to me, it’s your personal commentary (especially paragraph five), using FedEx’s story as an example. What I’ve taken from your previous entries is what’s going on in national service, what’s going on during your tour, what ServeNext’s mission is–but what I’ve taken from this particular entry, is how you as Matt and Sean feel, and puts your personal passions into context. Bravo, gentlemen, and applause.


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