In 1970 Frederick Wallace Smith embarked on a journey that would change the way that people do business. Smith purchased controlling interest in an aircraft maintenance company called Ark Aviation Sales. In 1971 he started trading used jets and on June 18, 1971 he founded Federal Express. He used a $4 million dollar inheritance (about $25 million today) and raised $91 million dollars in venture capital.
Along the way Smith was criticized because many though his idea about merging ground transportation and aviation to deliver packages overnight was well, crazy. Of course many present day entrepreneurs have been in the same boat.
In 1973 (40 years ago), he began offering overnight delivery services in 25 cities using a fleet of 14 Falcon 20 (DA-20) jets. The foundation for the way FedEx operates today began in 1973 in a model similar to bank clearinghouses. Packages would be brought to Memphis Tennessee and then re-routed out to their destination.
At age 69 Smith is still alive and well and is still at the helm of FedEx which is innovating in several other logistical spaces, while dealing with the disruption in even overnight delivery caused by new ways of communicating (the internet). Sensor products, cloud based services and even taking over the merged FedEx Kinko’s which are now just FedEx Office stores, are helping FedEx continue to deliver on the bottom line.
In his spare time what does Smith do? He serves on boards, like Startup America. Smith is a great friend to entrepreneurs and startup ecosystems at home and across the country.
FedEx is just beginning to celebrate getting “over the hill” and of course they’re doing it with jet power.