10 Things You Didn't Know About Fred Smith

The FedEx chairman is a potential vice presidential pick for John McCain.

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1. Frederick Wallace Smith was born on Aug. 11, 1944, in Marks, Miss. Smith's father, for whom he was named, was a businessman—founder of the Dixie Greyhound Bus Line and the Toddle House restaurant chain. He died when the younger Smith was 4 years old, but left the family financially well off.

2. As a child, Smith had Legg-Calvé-Perthes Disease, a birth defect that causes arthritis in the hips. He used crutches and leg braces when he was young but outgrew the condition by the age of 10, and by the time he was in high school, Smith was playing basketball and football.

3. Long interested in flying, Smith began piloting small planes when he was still a teenager.

4. While in high school, Smith and a group of friends started Ardent Records, a small recording studio, in a garage. Local rock and R&B acts began to record there, and after Smith left the company in 1962 to attend college, his friend, John Fry, expanded the business. Still in business today, Ardent became a nationally known studio where dozens of hit records by artists from Sam and Dave to the White Stripes have been recorded or mixed.

5. As an undergraduate at Yale University, Smith wrote a paper for an economics class in which he described a concept for overnight package delivery by air freight—very similar to what his company, FedEx, would later do. An often-repeated legend holds that his professor gave him a C for the paper, but Smith later admitted that he could not actually recall what grade he had received and had just guessed that it was his "usual gentlemanly C."

6. Smith was a member of the Skull and Bones secret society while at Yale. One of his closest friends in that group was John Kerry. Another Bonesman with whom Smith was acquainted was George W. Bush, who was also Smith's fraternity brother in Delta Kappa Epsilon. Years later, Smith said that because of his connections to the two men, he felt "kind of like the Forrest Gump of American politics."

7. After graduating from college in 1966, Smith enlisted in the Marine Corps and went to Vietnam as a second lieutenant. He served two tours of duty—one in the infantry and one as a pilot—and received a number of medals, including a Bronze Star, a Silver Star, and two Purple Hearts.

8. In 1971, Smith started the Federal Express Corp. He chose the name, in part, because he was hoping to get a contract transporting checks for the Federal Reserve system. He didn't get that contract but kept the name.

9. Smith played himself in the 2000 movie Cast Away, in which Tom Hanks played a FedEx employee who was stranded on an island.

10. An avid reader of history, Smith has said that he has learned more about business by studying history than from modern leadership books.


  • Barron's
  • Biography Resource Center
  • FSB: Fortune Small Business
  • Memphis Flyer
  • National Journal
  • New York Times
  • USA Today