FedEx, Fred Smith and the Innovator's Challenge

Last week, FedEx - a bellweather stock for the global economy - raised its 2011 expectations to 2.9% from 2.6%.  They also announced that they expect 2012 to be even better than 2011 - and, as a result, are considering speeding up their planned Boeing 777 orders.

That's the second time this year they've raised expectations - and that's good news for FDX shareholders and the economy in general.

Yet the most important fact to remember about the company is that when Fred Smith, its founder and still Chairman and CEO, wrote up the business plan as a business class assignment, his professor told him it would never work.

That didn't stop him.  In 1971 he founded Federal Express and by 1973 the company was providing overnight deliveries to 25 cities in the United States.  A very few years later it was nationwide, profitable - and it never looked back.

Now, as the FedEx Corporation, it has over 300,000 employees worldwide and is so ubiquitous that it is a verb.

Fred Smith saw his vision clearly and he went for it.  It didn't matter that the "experts" told him it would never work.

All of which leads to one question:  Are you following your dream?

If you're not - start now.

From UPS to Blue Nile: CNBC on Global Logistics

Here's a very interesting video on global logistics - not to be confused with supply chain - and absolutely focused on the customer and customer experience.  Because that's what's next - from the high seas to remembering your anniversary.

They've put together an interesting panel to discuss all aspects of how to make global logistics work in an increasingly globalized, customer-centric world.  Not all the answers are what you'd expect.

Even if you're not a global provider, this impacts you - and represents opportunities for you to pursue.


Military Service and Profits - Get Smart and Start Hiring.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a lifelong respect for the military.

I have a cousin I love dearly who served with honor and distinction.  I have also had the great good fortune to work with members of various military branches over the years.

The constant is the high caliber of thinking and capability they bring to everything they do.  Some of the best strategists I've ever worked with were either in the military or got their initial experience through military training.  By far, the best crisis managers I've met are those who came from the military.  And, interestingly, the best budget-managing, improvement-oriented executives I've ever met were in the military.

That's why it's so odd to me that private industry doesn't take greater advantage of the incredible resource that is on its doorstep now: Veterans.  Particularly those who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflict areas worldwide.

This is an arena in which, sadly, industry is short-sighted.  Too often, HR departments - and even managers and executives who have not served in the military - only think of 'veterans' as if all they know how to do is drill.  March.  Shoot.  Be barked at by drill sergeants.

Like in the movies.

There is so much more to the military than that and now, because we have a population of soldiers who have served multiple tours of duty in places and situations that require some of the quickest, smartest, on-the-ground thinking imaginable, there is a resource out there that businesses should be fighting for.  As hard as the men and women fought in battle.

In fact, whether or not they have served in active war zones, the training members of the military receive in areas that immediately impact how businesses succeed is something that few businesses could ever aspire to - let alone invest in and deliver.

That's why, no matter the country or nationality, this is such a waste and a missed opportunity for business.

What organizations need and want is applied thinking.  Applied, because you need execution.  Thinking, because you don't want to just react.  Put them together and what you have are people trained to proactively identify problems and opportunities based on learned indicators - both visible and invisible - on which action can be taken swiftly.

And it's that necessary fleetness of foot that the military also brings.

When you think standard logistics - from parcel delivery to supply chain - go back to the military model because that's where it all came from.  There is no better organization for determining how to get what is needed where its needed as quickly as possible as the military.

From tanks, ordinance and technology to the men and women who serve, the military has the knowledge of how to move anything needed from anywhere it might be.  Anywhere in the world.  Fast.

Because the military understands life and death.  Real life and death.  And that, too, is a boon to any organization as it cuts through all of the garbage that corporate in-fighting and individual positioning brings.

People who have served in the military know what's important and what's not.  There is a cut-to-the-chase understanding that they bring - of necessity - because a wrong decision where they come from can mean lost lives or injuries to their comrades and to the people and communities they are protecting.

There is little room for error - and when errors are made, the lessons learned are real.

All of this being said, yes, there is waste in the military.  Yes, there are ridiculously priced toilet seats and jet fighters.

But if you look at how that happens - and from whom - you'll find yourself looking at the way that a very small minority of private sector organizations have used the political and military systems to work their own agendas to waste that money.  Which leads to lost opportunities and lost lives.

There is one other thing that needs to be addressed here.  The issue of command and control.

Somewhere along the line, command and control became a dirty word.  Bad.  Not the way to run things. Why?  Because that's the way things are done in the military.  Not in business.

Don't fool yourselves.  Command and control is alive and well in organizations.  It no longer looks, in most cases, like the hierarchies and operating structures and methods of yesteryear, but command and control still exists.  It has to.  Otherwise, how are decisions made?  By whom?  Actions taken?  Measures and monitoring systems in place?

You have to know how you're doing when you're doing it.  You also have to know who is responsible and accountable for the decisions made.

Who the leader is.

And that's the difference in the way that command and control exists today than before.  It is more participative and collegial.  It breaks down silos and ensures that there is greater cooperation and coordination throughout the enterprise.

But decisions still have to be made.  Responsibility is owned by someone - legally.  There is a 'buck' and it stops somewhere.  That somewhere is the command position.

It's up to you how you want the culture of your organization to develop.  Command and control has nothing to do with it - unless you decide that it is going to be limiting and onerous.  Then it's going to work against you.  Just like its press presents it.

But don't put that on the military people that you're considering bringing in.  Yes, they know how to work within a structure and hierarchy, but they also know how to work together in ways that your teams, in most cases, still need to learn.

Because military members know that the enemy is outside the organization.  Not within.  Their job, as they have been taught and acted upon, is to work together to ensure the safety and well-being of their own while successfully accomplishing the mission.  And the mission is to win.  Together.

So, as you look at your hiring - now and going forward - start looking at the opportunities presented to you by bringing in the best and the brightest from the military.  Work with the resources that the military has created to help veterans find jobs.  Troll the universities to find the veterans who have gone back to school who have just the kind of experience you need - albeit from a different world of application.

Worldwide, there are millions of excellent resources out there just for the picking.  Make sure your HR Department is smart in looking at the military to pick the best for your enterprise.
For more information on how military members add value to your organization, I strongly recommend the book Start-Up Nation.  It's a fascinating read, overall, but its discussion of how these two supposedly competing cultures work together to create success is invaluable.