[PW] FedEx Anecdote (Quotation Query #748)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com
Sun May 15 13:13:32 PDT 2016

Great work S. M. Colowick. Here are some more details about the
"Esquire" article. The grade on the paper is mentioned twice. It
appeared in a caption, and it appeared in the main body of the article
which apparently stated: "Nevertheless, he gave Smith a passing grade,
but a mediocre one — a C."

Periodical: Esquire
Date: August 15, 1978
Article: Full Disclosure: Overnight Highflier
Subtitle: After a Rocky Takeoff, Feisty Federal Express Looks Set For
The Short Haul
Author: Dan Dorfman

Comment: The metadata above was obtained from a search in the online
Esquire database which S. M. Colowick pointed out. I do not have full
access to the database; hence I cannot see the page scans. The text
below was extracted from Google Books and it may contain errors. All
this information should be verified.

[Begin extracted text of caption]
Cocky Fred Smith: His Yale professor gave him a C, but Wall Street
rates him A . . . If he moves into the booming passenger business, his
grade could go to A+.
[End extracted text of caption]

[Begin extracted text]
About twelve years ago — when he was twenty-one — Smith turned in his
college thesis at Yale. Its premise: There's no way airlines can
compete effectively with either truckers or railroads in the
transportation of bulk freight. However, after exhaustive research,
Smith saw glowing potential — a booming business, in fact — in an
airline service that could deliver overnight small (under 70 pounds),
high-priority packages. These products would run the gamut from
integral parts of computers and diagnostic equipment to human organs
and legal briefs. His skeptical professor didn't think such a business
had a ghost of a chance, considering the airline industry's intense
competition and heavy regulation. Nevertheless, he gave Smith a
passing grade, but a mediocre one — a C.

I had drinks with Smith at his new $275,000 twelve-room home in the
heart of Memphis, and he laughed about that college incident. Said
Smith: "The professor didn't understand how the goddamn world worked .
. . that America was spreading out technologically . . . that the
efficacy of our society is to be smarter, not to work harder.
[End extracted text]


On Sun, May 15, 2016 at 3:10 PM, S M Colowick <januarye at gmail.com> wrote:
> On Sun, May 15, 2016 at 8:13 AM, Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at yale.edu> wrote:
>> There is a famous anecdote about FedEx founder Frederick W. Smith.  Wikipedia tells it as follows:
>> "In 1962, Smith entered Yale University. While attending Yale, he wrote a paper for an economics class, outlining overnight delivery service in a computer information age. Folklore suggests that he received a C for this paper, although in a later interview he claims that he told a reporter, 'I don't know what grade, probably made my usual C,' while other tales suggest that his professor told him that, in order for him to get a C, the idea had to be feasible. The paper became the idea of FedEx ..."
>> I am interested in tracing the earliest version of this anecdote, and would welcome any information about primary or secondary sources for early versions.
> A snippet on Google Books shows a mention of this incident in Esquire
> in 1978 (Overnight Highflier,
> http://archive.esquire.com/issue/19780815): "Cocky Fred Smith: His
> Yale professor gave him a C. hut Wall Street rates him A ."
> Another snippet shows a possibly earlier mention in Air World
> magazine, 1973 (page 193): "Frederick Smith's impossible dream became
> the nationwide, multi-million dollar Federal Express overnight package
> delivery ... in the early 1960s, and in 1965 made it the theme of a
> thesis he wrote for a Yale University undergraduate course." Since
> this is all I can see, I don't know if it mentions the C grade.
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