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How one man impacted the future of a business by simply giving his best to a seemingly small job

January 11, 2011

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I recently was honored to receive the American Football Coaches Association CEO Coach of the Year Award at their annual dinner.  This event raises money for AFCA members to educate and support the smaller college and high school coaches to become better at their jobs.  It’s an important goal since some 1.5 million youngsters are playing football, many without positive male influences other than their coaches.

It’s an honor to be recognized by a group that champions the role of coaches throughout America.  The good ones teach young people not only how to be better players but also how to be better human beings. Coaches model the teamwork, commitment and hard work they ask of their players.  Furthermore, the influence of good coaches is felt not just on the field, but also at home, in the classroom and later in life, long after the games are over.  

Whether you are coaching sports, leading a work team, or mentoring another employee, you never know how much of a positive difference you could be making in someone’s life. 

It reminds me of a story from the early days of FedEx.  We had met with a group of investors to try to get them to invest in our young company, but they decided against giving us the money.  We were very disappointed.  But the next day, one of the investors called me and said the group members had changed their mind and we would indeed be receiving the funds we had requested.  “Just out of curiosity,” I asked the man, “what made you change your mind?” Here’s what he told me:  “When we were leaving the hangar, we noticed how clean everything was—you could eat off the floor, you could see your face in the shiny surfaces.  Everything was spic-and-span.  And then we saw the gentleman, a partially disabled janitor, who was responsible for taking care of the place.  We talked it over and decided if this type of excellence is supported at the very front-line level, then FedEx was a company that we were willing to invest in.”

What a difference that FedEx janitor’s excellent work made in the future of our company.  What a difference we can all make in the futures of those around us by doing our best work and influencing others to do theirs.

Comments

    Deborah Jones says:

    Wow! What a brilliant example of people, service, profit at the most basic level. This is inspiring. I am going to share at staff meeting. I know sometimes the team doesn’t see how individual contributions matter in the larger scheme of things but this should drive the point home. It did for me.

    PAULA says:

    My favorite saying, ” I work to my best ability, as if I am cleaning my home.” I share this with my girls, do your best in all you do, its a reflection and people really notice.

    Colleen Martin says:

    I chose to become an investor in the early 1990’s for the same reason — clean white trucks. I later became an employee in 1995. At the time I was reading Peter Lynch’s book Beat The Street and he suggested looking around you to find a good company to invest in. When I looked around, I kept seeing these clean white FedEx trucks and wondered how they kept them so clean. So I checked the company out and liked what I saw. Additionally, I was extremely impressed with the couriers that came to my office every day. They were top notch professionals in every way. I still buy FDX stock every month and so does my husband.

    Jarrie Wells says:

    If everyone took that same approach with their team members the possibilities would be endless.

    Reggie Whitney says:

    People – Service – Profit!

    Michael Olagbegi says:

    Great message. The role you’re in today is not as important as the effort you give today.

    Freddy Moreno says:

    The pride that this employee took in doing his job, and the affect it had on others, inspires me to do my very best in every endeavour!!

    alan herbers says:

    Bravo Zulu to you and congratulations on your American Football Coaches Association CEO Coach of the Year Award, Mr. Smith!

    alan herbers says:

    Bravo Zulu! and congratulations to you Mr, Smith for winning the American Football Coaches Association CEO Coach of the Year Award.

    Barry Straub says:

    Fred’s comments rang a familiar tone for me. Early in my career a mentor manager of mine told me this proverb, “Take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves”. All too often we focus on large projects or problems and let the little things slip through our fingers. The reality is that every problem starts off small (like a seed) and seems to grow into an oak tree that is hard to handle when it is ignored.

    Harrison Salter says:

    Wow what an honor and what a story! As a business-oriented society, we sometimes lose sight of the little things and are too focused on making that dollar. We tend to try too hard to make the investment look good and might cut some corners when it comes to the tiny details, like the cleanliness of the floor. I think the story also shows just how well FedEx has treated that particular employee. No matter which end of the totem pole an employee is, if they feel like their small role is just as important and actually makes a difference, then it will. Many companies could use this to not only make their own businesses better, but make the economy better. If American businesses are full of happy and satisfied employees, then our American products and services will be of better quality and efficiency in our market will increase dramatically.

    Amanda Blackburn says:

    This story is so amazing. Fedex is such a wonderful company. I’ve worked at Fedex for year and its been wonderful. I love the company so much. Fedex cares so much about others, its great to work for a company that cares. Good job Fedex.

    Veena Samuel says:

    It’s an amazing story indeed, which answered some of the questions I had in my mind since the time I joined FedEx in 2006. I had always wondered as to how FedEx, such a massive company, might have generated the kind of funds required to form, operate and manage such a company as FedEx.

    Mr. Smith has always been an inspiration for all of us at FedEx to do our BEST at our level and help others to do their best just like that FedEx janitor, who unknowingly was able to influence the investors’ decision. I would like to encourage each and every one at FedEx to give their BEST to everything around them. God bless FedEx!

    Rory Vacco says:

    As a Former Coach I totally understand the impact Coaches make on individuals at a TEAM level. Because of the FedEx Employment Structure I was able to work partime and Coach Football While Pursuing my Dream Job of Managing a professional football team. I was able to do that for six years and had the time of my life. Now at 51 years old I am back at FedEx currently a DG Agent, finished up the Aspire program and recently put in for a Management Position. This article made me reflect on all the people that make sucess posible.

    Marisa Mendoza says:

    In the movie, “Remember the Titans,” (which also happens to be about a great football coach) there is this great line, “Attitude reflects leadership.” Even the most common of tasks takes on greater meaning when it is a reflection of strong leadership. Fedex means outstanding attitudes that spring from outstanding leadership.

    Mariam Mukhtar says:

    I am greatly touched by this story, definately every tiny thing makes a difference. I shall definately follow it. Thank you for sharing this with us :)

    John Hodges says:

    This is a fantastic history lesson on Fedex, but I would love to know the name of the janitor who had such an impact and a critical role in the investors investing in Fedex.

    Donna Walker says:

    Mr. Smith,
    Thank you so much for relating this story. This is just the type of story I can share with the young people in the inner-city ministry that my husband and I have had for the past 12 years. Many of them have not seen the positive power of one life or fail to understand its significance. As a proud member of the FedEx team for 27 years, you continue to lead us well!

    Travis Bohrer says:

    I am honored to work for such a great company. It is important to strive for the Purple Promise everyday!

    Armen Nunez says:

    I coach my kids little league basball team and the kids that have there parents sit and watch them practice everyday seem to excel more than the few who don’t have any support.

    Thank you for the reminder that ” I’m here not just for my kids but, for all my kids!”

    God Bless the FedEx family and our own family!!!

    Reza Fallahian says:

    I am very impressed. A nice story and thanks for sharing. “Whether you are coaching sports, leading a work team, or mentoring another employee, you never know how much of a positive difference you could be making in someone’s life.” I love that.

    petra carbonell says:

    CONGRATULATION, THANK YOU FOR WORKING SO HARD TO KEEP US WHWRE WE ARE….I HAVE ALWAYS ADMIRED YOUR DEDICATION.

    Steve Reynolds says:

    Thanks for the inspiration, Mr. Smith. I remember how clean we used to keep those floors! Congratulations to you and thanks the opportunity work for the the greatest company in the world!

    Best,
    Steve

    michael laarkamp says:

    bet you that janitor worked alot on his own time.
    back in the day we didn’t much care about the dollars. don’t know how or why we got caught up in the fedex thing. it was a crazy time to be sure.
    i think it was more to see what might happen next.
    a whole different work ethic these days.

    BMNicholson says:

    Congratulations Mr.Smith and thank you for your outstanding leadership and vision for this company and all who work for you. This award and the lesson which followed reminds me of what I love most about being a FedEx employee. Simply put, no matter one’s position; from the very highest to the seemingly lowest; we all can make a contribution when integrity and pride are the motivating forces.

    Daniel Moore says:

    So…what happend to the janitor that sealed the deal I wonder?

    Harold Whitewick says:

    Fred has always been a inspiration to me for over 21 years,because of this,my co team members and I deliver the purple promise every day.My station YULA has been no 1 for the large station category many times and we are proud of this.

    Eugene "Gino" McDonald says:

    Mr. Smith, Thank you for helping many individuals. I was growing up wanting to be a truck driver and a coach. I completed my degree in Physical Education 82′. My college roommate Mark Mundy (Now Sr. Mgr CTX) got me an interview in 1981 as a casual. I came home with my first set of uniforms and my father told me stick with this company it will be going a long way. My father passed away and never saw my children. My nickname at FedEx is “Coach” and I love it. My father (Auditor A&P) worked an early shift and was at every sporting event of mine to remind me of teamwork and respect. I followed in his footsteps as I work the Eco Shift at EWR/AGFS and many individuals always wonder why. I explain, to coach many and teach them teamwork and respect. Going on 30 years, I still get my check and say, “Thanks Fred” So congratulation on your award and God Bless. Gino “Coach”

    Kevin says:

    Good story, you never know what might make the difference.

    Paula Komisar says:

    As a single mom, I always share with my daughters, “do the best your can” no matter what it is. This is a reflection of you and someone will always notice.”You never know where it can lead. Fed Ex is a company which I am proud to work for.Joke at home is “MOM WHEN ARE YOU COMING HOME?”

    CINDI MENNENGA says:

    WHAT AN INSPIRATION…A HEARTFELT THANK-YOU FOR WORKING SO HARD AND GIVING ME THE OPPORTUNITY TO WORK WITH THE BEST COMPANY EVER.. SOMETIMES WE ALL NEED A LITTLE PUSH, AFTER READING THIS STORY I GOT MINE…THE PRIDE OF THE PURPLE

    Melanie Hill says:

    What a wonderful example Mr. Smith has been for thousands of people (not just FedEx employees). This is just another reminder that if we are faithful in the small things we can be trusted with much.

    Charles Briggs says:

    The more things change, the more they stay the same, with our great Company!
    When I take a external or internal customer on a FXG Hub tour, one of the very first things they comment on, is how clean the floor and building is.

    Ivelisse Vázquez says:

    Thanks a lot Mr. Fred for all the stories of success and perseverance that you have been sharing since the ’70 when Federal Express was born. You made your dream come true: “a revolutionized global business, speed, reliability…” You believed in yourself, and went above and beyond; you teach us to believe in ourselves. Also thanks for the humanitarian contributions that the company provides worldwide in every community, and for always been considering the safety first for the employees. We all shine in the mirror of the world thanks to the “spic-and-span image created and the good work. Regards from Puerto Rico~

    eladio hernandez says:

    A clean workspace is a happy workplace!

    Diana Gardella says:

    Congratulations,for winning the AFCA Award!Mr. Smith, it has also been quite an honor to work for one of the greatest companies in the world, for 27 years, as well. I would like to thank that Janitor, for his influence, to inspire your early investors, so, I could also benefit after all these wonderful years! Mr. Smith, you should see how clean our Sr. Mgr., Willie Brooks, keeps our staion, FLLRT; Don’t think anyone has him beat!

    Linda Cunningham says:

    Thank you so much for this inspiring story. I am so glad that I read it. It just shows that when we think some jobs are menial they turn out to be most important. Without this janitor doing an excellent job in his “menial” position, whose to say I would have my “important” position today. Hats off to him.

    Full Circle Flavors, Carole Algier, Owner/Partner says:

    We are a young business of 1-1/2 years, three sisters in our late 50’s reinventing ourselves. After reading this story it just reinforced everything we believe in, it takes a dedicated team with a passion to see a company grow. I am impressed the investors paid attention to those details and had the courage to invest and most of all change their decision. In this tough economy it is very hard to get a start-up business off the ground, we are at the point where we are looking for the right investors and your story only gives us hope.

    Paul Garcia says:

    I have been with FedEx for almost 25 years and I have always thought what a lucky guy I am to have fallen into such a great job…Thx. Fred…You have been my Roll model.

    Lori Bertella says:

    AWESOME!! A story that speaks to the very core of what we are about. Thanks!!

    Tadashi Kawamura says:

    Any time someone is looking at us, and we have a power to change someone else. Do all possible with thinking someone else, that would give us the next level lifetime never-the-less work place or home. I was impressed of this story, and very glad that this was accually happened in FedEx.

    jaideep dewani says:

    Inspirational…….

    scott g johnson says:

    What a great example how every single one of us employees can make a huge difference by the things people see us doing. I’m proud to work for this great company!

    Natalie L. Harris says:

    Mr. Smith I have always been proud to work for FedEx! It is the stories we hear like this one, time and time again, that continues to inspire us to do the best job we can day in and day out. One of my mentors told me to manage my day to day responsibilites as if I were running my own business. These words continue to push me towards EXCELLENCE! The janitor in this story undoubtedly had the same mindset and operated in excellence every day. But the bottom line is we strive to be like our leader and with a leader like you, we cannot help but operate and perform our duties in the spirit of, yes what else, EXCELLENCE. Thank you for your example!

    Carol Cleeland says:

    Fred Smith has been such an inspiration to me over the last 22 years that I have been working at Fedex. This story is a perfect example of how he inspires those of us who work for Fedex, and the rest of the world. Year after year, we feel the empowerment to be the best we can, from the top of the ranks right down to the newest person hired. When I joined Fedex, I was shown an introductory movie to let me know that while I worked for Fedex, Fred Smith was going to support me to be a “People First” person. That message has always been evident throughout the last 22 years that I have worked here. I am so proud to be an employee with Fedex. Obviously, the janitor in the story was as well. Thank you, Fred Smith for your support, guidance and inspiration.

    Jeremy Horsley says:

    What a great story! You are so inspirational and inspire us all to acheive greatness! Thanks for all you do for our GREAT company!

    phillip says:

    –this is cool

    valentino r. anthony says:

    Thank you Mr.Smith for sharing your inspirational story. It goes to prove that little things do mean alot. Then and now. I celebrated my 10th year with Fedex last November and am so thankful to work with such a wonderful company. Fedex has helped me re-establish myself after divorce and relocation. My parttime job with Fedex is something I brag about to my friends, and believe me co-workers on my full-time job are so envious. They don’t know why or how I keep it up. I tell them Fedex makes me feel appreciated and useful in so many ways. I truly put my hands and heart and mind toward giving my best to Fedex everytime I clock in. I LOVE THIS PLACE.

    Vin S. says:

    I hope that FEDEX management has since taken good care of this man, above and beyond his salary. Or, if he has since passed, his family.

    Tim Sellenger says:

    Doing your best…even when nobody is looking. I think Henry Ford said this. It’s the truth and I strive to do this everyday. If done right, a little influence can go a long way and remain lasting for generations to come.

    agatha l. ginn says:

    MR. SMITH THAX 4 YOUR IDEAS AN VISIONS AN GRACE AN LOVE 4 HELPING PEOPLE SIR I DUE LOVE AND ALWAYS THE PURPLE PROMISE AT’S BEST. I LOVE YOUR COMPANY AND I JUST STARTED REALY LEARNING AS A SVC AGENT SIR I JUST LOVE HELP’N BUT SIR CAN WE HAVE MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY OFF I WOULD THINK U LOOSE MONEY ON THAT DAY BUT THIS IS A MUST CANT WAIT 2 MEET U SIR PEACE N JOY

    Mounia says:

    for me You are a LEGEND.I wish you visit the Middle East to encourage us and share your ideas.

    Phyllis Davis says:

    ALWAYS KNOW WHAT YOUR RESPONSILITY IS TO PEOPLE WHEN YOU ARE TALKING TO THEM.PEOPLE AS A WHOLE PEOPLE AS A FRIEND. PEOPLE AS YOUR NEXT CUSTOMER, CUSTOMER SERVICE PEOPLE .THATS WHAT HELPS SERVICE NUMBER ONE. NUMBER TWO INNOVATIVE WE MUST ALL BE ON THE SAME PAGE. TIME IS VAULE AS WELL DON’T SIT FOR A HALF HOUR AND DECIDE IF YOU WANT ANOTHER TEAM MEMBER TO GET INVOLVED .I DIDN;T GET IT DONE DID YOU ,THAT’S WHY IAM ONE OF THE MOST REPECTFUL PURPLE PROMISE TEAM MEMMBERS TODAY I SPEAK FOR OUR CUSTOMER HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO ANSWER THE PHONE, HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO GET BACK TO THE CUSTOMER ABOUT HER PACKAGE, HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO GET BACK TO CUSTOMER SERVICE. HOW LONG DID IT TAKE TO GET BACK TO FEDEX ONE CALL ,BE REPECTFULL AT ALL TIMES BECAUSE SOMETIMES WE MAY NOT HAVE THE RIGHT ANSWER OR WHAT OUR CUSTOMER WANTS TO HEAR WE WERE REPECTFUL THEN WHEN THE NEXT WE SPEAK I FIND THAT I HAVE ACCOMODATED THE CUSTOMERS.

    Tareq Hamed says:

    Giving the best while doing a job is the basic of a perfect results.

    Belinda Dove says:

    Mr. Smith, you are truely an inspiration to all of us and you lead by example. The person that you are is the type of person one would expect to find at FedEx. I have to say that “our” drivers, both Express, Ground and Home are the very best that FedEx has to offer. I would like to bring such a person to your atention. His name is Robert Brewin and he is our FedEx Ground driver in our town of Sequim, Washington. We have an FASC in Sequim and in the past 13 years, I have seen many drivers come & go. Robert is, by far, THE most conscientious driver that we have had in the past 13 years. He is considerate, helpful and will go that extra mile to accomplish his goal – getting his work finished in a timely and courteous manner. Our customers absolutely adore him and he is as “down home humble” as they come. After my husband passed away last year, I was battling to move something in our store and Robert came in. He saw that I needed some help and he said that he only had 5 minutes to spare but if I needed him, those minutes were mine. I never forgot that. Here was a man that literally runs to finish his route, offering us his only spare time! This is indeed the kind of person one can expect to find at FedEx and one that leads by your example. Thank you so much for having such wonderful people in your company!

    dasSuiGeneris says:

    The story of the janitor might just be the first example of The Purple Promise. Excellent post, Mr. Smith.

    brian nalevayko says:

    just wanted to let the world know how proud I am to be a part of the fed ex family. I have been a part for twelve years now and could not be any happier.Nor could I be any stronger,mentally or physically.The people I meet on my route and my co-workers are an inspiration to me.Keeping me on track to deliver the purple promise every chance I have.Keep up the great work team. GO FED EX!

    Tamera Rustin says:

    Following along by your example, Mr.Smith, are some of your employees who performed miracles in order to get my passport from Iowa to Tampa in time (and before promised delivery)for me to be able to fly to Grand Cayman and meet my family on the cruise ship. I would like to nominate Jacqualine, JANET HOPE, and Curtis Owens, for employees of the year! Unfortunately, I can not reach them to get supervisor names and addresses in order to send letters. I just appreciate their hard work above and beyond what is expected as I know they all went out of their way to get my passport to me in time. I want them to know I made it to the ship and really appreciated their help so much!!!

    Tim Jones says:

    I happened to be at tthat dinner when Mr. Smith gave the speech listed above. It was received very well by our customers and the rest of the audience. A silence fell over the room for a few moments as people reflected on the real meaning of how people make a difference. Regardless of one’s stature. Leadership starts at the top, but everyone is a leader, even if only of yourelf. A quote from the book titled ” Speed of Trust”

    Alex Wilson says:

    I was at the Fallbrook, California post office yesterday (10/28)when I saw your Fed Ex driver come to the aid of a lady who tripped over a parking curb and had fallen. He stopped to help her up and then bandaged her scraped arm. I did not write down his van information but I can’t imagine there are multiple drivers in our little town.
    Anyway, your driver when out of his way to show kindness and compassion and I wanted to let you know that someone noticed and is very proud of him!!

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