Lesson #3: Learn To Put People First

“First and foremost is our corporate philosophy, which we call PSP: People, Service, Profit,” says Smith. “If you're going to run a high service organization, you have to get the commitment of the people working for that organization right at the start. If you don't, you'll never be able to deliver at the levels of expectations of the customer.”

Although he started out with just one employee – himself – Smith has since grown his company to include over 275,000 workers. And, he did it by valuing the people that were part of his team; Smith understood that success would not be accomplished with his hands alone. “Our ‘People, Service, Profit’ philosophy insists that our people be treated fairly,” says Smith. “If we give good service and we come up with a reasonable profit, we make that a good deal for our employees, with profit sharing, promotions, complaint procedures. If you spend any time looking at the culture of FedEx you'll find that PSP philosophy is the foundation of everything else.”

Understanding how to treat people with dignity and respect was something Smith had learned from his days in the Marine Corps. “A big part of the employee relations systems and all that we have at our company came from my experience in the service,” says Smith. “The Marine Corps is the best when it comes to teaching people how to lead other folks. And so, it had a profound experience on me, some bad, some good.”

Smith had come from a good background and was educated at one of the country’s finest universities; his colleagues in the Marine Corps were not the same type of people he had grown up with. “I wasn't exactly exposed to folks that were in the blue collar professions and occupations,” recalls Smith. “And then here I was in the Marine Corps, and became a platoon leader, and I was surrounded by kids like that. I maybe was three years older than they were. I was 21, they were 18. But these were youngsters from very different backgrounds than I was. You know, blue collar backgrounds, steelworkers, and truck drivers, and gas station folks.”

Living together, eating together and fighting together in Vietnam, Smith was given a crash course on how to relate to people from all walks of life. “I think I came up with a very, very different perspective than most people that end up in senior management positions about what people who wear blue collars think about things and how they react to things, and what you should do to try to be fair to those folks,” says Smith. “A great deal of what FedEx has been able to accomplish was built on those lessons I learned in the Marine Corps.”

Another key lesson that Smith learned from his service as a Marine was that empowering people was one of the keys to success – both his and theirs. “You can't make people do what's right. You can lead them, and you can empower them to make the right decision, but if you don't produce a culture that allows them to do that, then all the rest is just bumping your gums as one of my old business partners used to say,” says Smith. “I think that's a big part of it – to make sure that the people you're working with have a chance to be successful.”

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