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VOL. 131 | NO. 193 | Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Bill Dries

Last Word: FedEx Changes, The Blue Cross Exit and Armageddon

By Bill Dries

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Was that really autumn Monday or was the drop in humidity a prank to get the trees to drop their leaves?

The FedEx shareholder’s meeting Monday included some changes in the management chart at FedEx Corp. – more like some changes in the seating with one retirement by Mike Glenn, whose office is next to company founder Fred Smith.

Smith is giving up one of the three titles he has held at FedEx since founding the company more than 40 years ago. That is president. Smith remains as board chairman and CEO. Dave Bronczek, the head of FedEx Express, the oldest and largest division of the company – the one with the airplanes – becomes president of FedEx Corp. which means those heading the express, ground, freight and other similar parts of the portfolio report to Bronczek.

The functions of finance and human resources and information technology report to Smith.

That takes effect in 2018 and Smith says it is because of the critical nature of the integration of TNT into FedEx. TNT is the Dutch company that FedEx acquired, which is the largest acquisition of its kind in the history of FedEx. TNT gives FedEx a ready-made system of routes in Europe. The acquisition and all of its hoops is one thing. The integration is another and there are numerous horror stories out there in the corporate world of what happens when you don’t get the blend of corporate cultures right.

Beyond that, this didn’t feel like what you might imagine Smith’s farewell would be like. No reflections or recaps. So while the volume has gone up on the long-running rumors about Smith's eventual exit, the next steps seem to be where that story will be told and not necessarily Monday's announcement.

Smith did weigh in on Obamacare when he fielded a pointed question from a Teamster about the high deductibles in FedEx’s health care coverage. The FedEx employee from Charlotte questioned the high deductibles when the company spends so much money on sports event sponsorships and naming rights.

Smith defended the sponsorships and naming rights as an element in the company’s growth in direct terms.

His comment about Obamacare was more measured as you will see at the bottom of our story on a busy day for the purple and orange.

As Smith was commenting, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee announced it is dropping its Affordable Care Act marketplace plan coverage in the Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville areas effective with the new year. The company says its losses under the Affordable Care Act provisions are unsustainable even with the state approving a 62 percent rate hike on individual plans.

Those parts of the state not covered by the decision will see fewer choices even with the rate hike.

Political reaction Monday tended to fall along partisan lines with more reaction expected and an intersection with ongoing efforts to pass as well as resist a Medicaid expansion in Tennessee.

As the other debate came and went Monday evening -- the one at Hofstra -- the two contenders -- Clinton and Trump – now have campaign headquarters in our city.

We covered the opening of Trump headquarters earlier this month. Over the weekend, the Clinton campaign opened further west of Trump in the Poplar corridor.

And Congressman Steve Cohen described the election as “Armageddon.”

Back to the debate for a bit – or more specifically what happens before and after these events. For a number of years I’ve waited and hoped that the practice of talking about what a candidate “needs to do” would die a horrible death. It hasn’t happened. I think it is the wrong setting for considering what is about to happen and then what has happened. What a candidate “needs to do” is be himself or herself so we can judge them accordingly.

Some of you thought Lester Holt, the NBC anchor who was moderator of the debate, was missing in action and the missing person posters on social media were funny to a point. But I find that I don’t have too much of a problem with his minimalist style, not with two candidates who are so different and such complete opposites and have such well known public lives. He said at the outset that the two candidates would be the center of attention. And they were.

A lot to take in with our Education Emphasis including an exit interview with Ellis Haguewood, the departing headmaster of MUS and how the Fred P. Gattas Co. became Knowledge Tree.

We also take a look at a story that is still moving – the Shelby County Schools' emerging long-range plan for closing schools. More details about this could emerge at Tuesday’s school board meeting. We look at how the plans are about more than just transferring students and padlocking doors.

The school system has closed a lot of schools since 2012 and in just about every case there have been changes in other schools as a result of the closings. The grade structures have changed, new schools have been built to replace a set of three schools within a few miles of each other and schools closed, like Northside High, have been reopened for different purposes – in the case of Northside to help fill the void left by the emergency closing of the Central Nutrition Center on Jackson.

The Chancellor of the UT Health Science Center gives his annual state of the university address highlighting several projects that should be completed just past the new year on a campus that has seen lots of construction work in recent years with more to come.

Top of mind for Dr. Steve Schwab is the $16 million Plough Center for Sterile Drug Delivery Systems to manufacture drugs and train students in the industry. There is also a $36.7 million center that brings together students from several graduate school disciplines in simulators to prepare them for team-based health care. Just the state of the art tech part of that center is $4.5 million. A bit further out is a second school of dentistry and a makeover of the campus’s quadrangle.

Among the more than 100,000 people at Neyland in Knoxville this past weekend for the UT-Florida football game was former state Representative Jeremy Durham of Franklin, Tn., recently expelled from the House by his fellow lawmakers. And Durham was again expelled Saturday, this time from Neyland Stadium after he allegedly hit a Florida fan while state Rep. Brian Kelsey of Memphis was seated next to him. The Tennessean has an account.

At Grizz media day Monday, Zach Randolph said he intends to make some kind of symbolic statement about the use of deadly force by police against black men. And Randolph said Monday he has talked with other Grizz players about such a statement.


At a time when veterans are being encouraged to seek help for post-traumatic stress disorder and other ailments, a third of the calls to a suicide hotline for veterans set up by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, are not being answered by the staffers who know how to help veterans.

That is according to the former director of the crisis line in an internal email that has been leaked.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch in Little Rock Monday to announce the Justice Department will award more than $20 million to police departments and other law enforcement across the country to buy more police body cameras.

Pfizer won’t split despite lagging stock prices, speculation on Wall Street and the pressure both are creating among investors in the pharma giant.

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