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VOL. 128 | NO. 66 | Thursday, April 04, 2013

Lofty Company

FedEx founder included on Barron’s list of ‘World’s Best CEOs’

By Andy Meek

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For creating the overnight package-delivery business four decades ago, and for everything his company has done since, FedEx Corp. founder Fred Smith has been placed among an elite group of chief executives by the business magazine Barron’s.

FedEx Corp. founder Fred Smith has been placed among an elite group of chief executives by the business magazine Barron’s. He was part of a group assembled for a recent cover story titled “World’s Best CEOs.”

(Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)

Smith joins others like Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffet and Google CEO Larry Page. The group was assembled for the cover story of the March 25 edition of Barron’s, titled, “World’s Best CEOs.”

The article lists “why” along with each CEO’s name and then spells out the reasoning behind each addition to the list. According to Barron’s, Smith, whose company became the first in the early 1970s to offer overnight delivery in the U.S., “continues to innovate in the industry he created 42 years ago.”

When informed of Smith’s inclusion on the Barron’s list, a handful of Memphis business leaders who also are heavily involved in local civic efforts were generally effusive in their praise of the FedEx chief.

One of them is David Waddell, president and CEO of investment firm Waddell & Associates, who said Smith is rare among CEOs in that he’s capable of both strategic and tactical leadership.

“Fred has the unique ability to see the big picture and the details simultaneously,” Waddell said. “FedEx requires mastery of both disciplines, and his leadership effortlessly fuses them together. Fred also brings a paternal nature to his relationship with the thousands of employees at FedEx, which creates a very loyal and dedicated culture.”

Duncan-Williams Inc. president Duncan Williams called Smith a “visionary” and “a great leader.”

Bank of Bartlett president Harold Byrd said that although he and Smith are near the same age, Byrd regards Smith as a hero.

“Nothing was the same after FedEx,” Byrd said. “Fred has globally influenced every individual and business for the better.”

Barron’s notes how the global economic slump has been a drag on the company’s global air network but that FedEx Ground is on a tear at the moment. Moreover, FedEx is adapting, a quality that links all the CEOs across the diverse industries on the Barron’s list.

“Nothing was the same after FedEx. Fred has globally influenced every individual and business for the better.”

–Harold Byrd, Bank of Bartlett president

Most of the CEOs on the list are pushing full speed ahead on disrupting their own businesses before someone else does it for them.

Page’s Google, for example, has changed from a search engine-based company to a more diversified enterprise that’s now at the vanguard of Internet search, mobile devices, cloud computing and more.

Also on the list is Les Moonves, the CEO of CBS, which like all TV companies is dealing with broad changes in the way consumers want to enjoy TV content.

FedEx, meanwhile, has responded to macroeconomic forces and other business concerns by undertaking a broad restructuring that includes reorganizing staff, consolidating facilities and buying more fuel-efficient aircraft.

The company is looking to cut annual costs $1.7 billion by 2016 with buyouts that will reduce its workforce by at least 10 percent by May 2014. The restructuring will, among other things, help compensate for consumers who have opted for cheaper and slower shipping services.

In early February, a number of FedEx officers and managing directors accepted voluntary buyouts. Thousands more were notified of their eligibility on Feb. 15, according to Alan B. Graf Jr., executive vice president and chief financial officer of FedEx.

Smith has been open about that process and walked investors and the analyst community through its purpose and the way it will unfold.

The work never stops, and FedEx continues to grow. FedEx Ground in late March broke ground for two new facilities in California, in San Francisco and Fresno. They’re part of the company’s nationwide network expansion plan, which has seen 11 major hubs added since 2005 as well as 500 other facilities expanded or relocated around the country.

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