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A Conversation With Frederick W. Smith

Professor Brian Havel's Opening Remarks

This message is based on Professor Havel's introductory and closing remarks at the interview of Mr. Smith.

I am pleased to welcome you to this website and to the webcast below. This is the seventh event in the Institute's special oral history series, "Conversations with Aviation Leaders," in which we talk about the origins, the history, and the record of U.S. airline deregulation with academics, officials, public figures, industry leaders whove played a significant role in this extraordinary public policy experiment.

Our previous Conversations have focused on historical developments in airline passenger travel, and weve not explored in any detail the circumstances particular to the deregulation and evolution of air cargo transport.

Interview - Frederick W. Smith (Part 1 of 3)

We're redressing that omission this afternoon on the grand scale. The Institute has gone on a field trip, to Memphis, Tennessee, to the global headquarters of the FedEx Corporation. We're sitting in a custom-built studio on the FedEx campus, and we're privileged indeed that our interviewee is Frederick W. Smith, the founder, chairman, and CEO of FedEx, the world's first and largest overnight express delivery company.

A Yale classmate of Secretary of State John Kerry, and of former U.S. President George W. Bush, he famously formulated the idea of FedEx as an assignment for an undergraduate economics class. After school, he became a highly decorated Marine, and served in the Marine Corps. He founded Federal Express in 1971. The name “Federal Express,” as it then was, is derived in part from a failed attempt, apparently, to secure a contract to deliver checks for the Federal Reserve System.

Interview - Frederick W. Smith (Part 2 of 3)

​​Anyone familiar with the company’s history will know that FedEx is a quintessential part of U.S. business lore, and Fred Smith did not allow any of his early setbacks to stand in his way. He took on the patchwork of regulations that effected air cargo transport and express delivery services. He testified before Congress on dozens of occasions, regarding various deregulation proposals, and by the early ’90s had become quite a fixture on the Congressional scene.

Those early testimonies form a crucial part of what we will be talking about here in Memphis this afternoon.

Interview - Frederick W. Smith (Part 3 of 3)

​​Fred Smith has won numerous awards and distinctions, including the 2011 Tony Jannus Award for outstanding leadership in the commercial aviation industry.

Our format will be approximately three 50-minute sessions, in which we will talk successively about the emergence of the initial experience of airline deregulation, and we look at the post-deregulation era, and the influence of deregulation on the restrictive regime that governed – still governs, to some extent – international air transport. And finally, we’ll have some overall perspectives and retrospectives, and look at some specific regulatory issues.

Anyway, that’s the theory. It’s really up to my guest, Fred Smith – I’m, in a sense, his guest here in Memphis – as to how this Conversation will unfold.

Welcome, Fred!​