FedEx At 50: The Extraordinary Frederick Smith

U.S. Marine Who Later Would Connect The World

(Editor’s Note:  FedEx At 50 is the cover feature in MAIL Magazine May/June edition (see pages 13-22). The following article appears on page 3. To download the issue, click here.)

From MAIL Magazine May/June 2023:  In 1965, U.S. Marines stormed the beaches of Da Nang in central Vietnam, marking the entry of American combat troops in the Vietnam War. Three years later, Lieutenant Frederick Smith led his men on an assault on nearby Goi Noi Island, earning the Silver Star for fearlessly rescuing wounded soldiers while directing a rout of North Vietnamese forces.


Smith served two combat tours in Vietnam and also received the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. But the United States ultimately withdrew from Vietnam and the Communists took control of the country in 1975.

Today, his company connects Vietnam with 219 other nations in the world.

FedEx vans speed by the very places Smith and thousands of other American soldiers marched, fought, and died. Da Nang is one of 13 FedEx World Service Centers in Vietnam.

Fifty Years Ago, FedEx Begins Service

Born in Mississippi in 1944, Smith suffered a bone disease as a young boy which he later overcame. Before going to Vietnam, he attended Yale University where he first detailed his hub-and-spoke concept for express delivery service in a term paper.


Back from the war, he put his idea into motion. On June 18, 1971, Federal Express was born with funds from Smith’s inheritance and venture capital money. In 1973 FedEx began operations with service in 25 cities, but quickly grew in the ensuing years to cover the United States and, eventually, the rest of the world.

On its 20th anniversary in 1993, FedEx grossed over $5 billion and its 93,000 employees delivered more than 1.7 million documents and packages every day.

Now, on its 50th anniversary, FedEx grosses over $80 billion and its 530,000 employees deliver an average 15 million shipments per day, from 5,000 facilities worldwide.

Courage To Pursue His Dream

The courage Fred Smith showed on the battlefield would be seen again and again in the corporate world as he brought his vision to life. He had to sell the idea, raise funds, build the distribution network, and overcome restrictive laws, all the while fighting larger competitors. Not every idea he implemented was successful, but his resilience at pushing forward and not giving up meant ultimate success, just like on Goi Noi Island.


It was the models he learned in the Marines that would underline FedEx corporate culture. Instead of motivating men to fight, he motivated men and women to serve the customer. He went the next step and guaranteed overnight, time-definite service — confident his well managed, dedicated, and focused team would perform.

Perform they did and, fifty years later, still do.

That Marine thinking even flows into the company cafeteria. “And although I’m chairman of the corporation, I can’t get myself to cut into the line in the company cafeteria. Somewhere, a voice reminds me that a good officer lets his troops eat first,” Smith once wrote.

The next time you send or receive a FedEx or see a FedEx truck, take a moment to appreciate the herculean accomplishments of Frederick Smith and the company he founded — connecting the world in communication and commerce.

More FedEx articles on pages 13-22.