Frederick W. Smith, decorated Vietnam Veteran and founder of FedEx, awarded 2024 Veteran of the Year

The award honors outstanding military members going beyond the call of duty. After a $65M donation to the USMC Scholarship Fund, and more, Frederick W. Smith has certainly done that.
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Frederick W. Smith

Frederick W. Smith, founder of FedEx and decorated Marine Vietnam Veteran has been named the 2024 Military Veteran of the Year by Military Times. He is proud of his Marine Corps service and is quoted as saying, “I owe a debt of gratitude to the Marine Corps.” He graduated from Yale in 1966 and then spent the next three years of his life as an officer in the Marine Corps. He deployed to Vietnam twice, once as an infantry officer and on his second tour he served as a Forward Air Controller flying in an OV-10 Bronco. He honorably left the Corps in 1969 as a captain having been awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.

Frederick W. Smith, founder of FedEx. Photo courtesy of Frederick W. Smith.

Post-service, he followed the entrepreneurial family tradition and founded Federal Express on June 18, 1971. He used his family inheritance and raised around what would be $690M in today’s dollars in venture capital to start the firm. The company initially had 14 Falcon-20 jets to service 25 cities. During the foundational years of the company he had to keep his company alive and did so with outside-the-box thinking and even a little gambling. Smith once used the last $5,000 that Federal Express had and gambled it in Las Vegas playing Blackjack, turning it into $27,000. The winnings covered the firm’s fuel bill of $24,000. The Corps played a critical influence on the culture and organization of his company, which included the USMC company grade and NCO leadership tenets serving as key components of the FedEx Manager guide and FedEx Operating manual. He made sure veterans were taken care of as well. Smith explained, “If you could fly, drive a truck, or lift a box, if you served in Vietnam, you had a job.”

In an interview I did for Leatherneck Magazine with Smith during his tenure at FedEx, he told me, “Our philosophy, People Service Profit (PSP) goes right back to that core tenet that the Marine Corps teaches its young officers and NCOs, and that’s take care of the troops. If you take care of the troops, they’ll take care of, in our case, the customers or the mission and you’ll achieve success. So, I cannot overemphasize how important the Marine Corps was in my business career, more important than my formal education I might add. How to manage an organization and achieve goals and results really, mostly was from my Marine Corps experience and of course sports was important to me too … my Marine Corps experience was the bedrock on which FedEx was formed.”

Frederick W. Smith, FedEx founder in Vietnam with four other Marines
1stLt Frederick W. Smith, second from right, CO, “Kilo” Co, 3rd Bn, 5th Marines, with platoon leaders, left to right, Lts Jack Hewitt, Joe Campbell (KIA), Jack Ruggles (KIA), and SSgt Dave Danford in the Tam Ky area of South Vietnam in the autumn of 1967. Photo courtesy of Frederick W. Smith.

FedEx is a global business leader that pushed business and logistic boundaries to become a worldwide trendsetter in shipping, especially overnight packages. Even with all of his success, Smith remains grounded in his leadership and experiences in the Marines in the Vietnam War. His teamwork and people-leading skills were instrumental in the foundational structure and inspiration at FedEx. Many of the time-honored traditions at the company are rooted in his service. He is involved in many philanthropic activities such as being the co-chair of the U.S. World War II Memorial project, the National Museum of the Marine Corps and many more. He serves on the board of many high-level companies such as General Mills, EW Scripps, Autozone and as the chairman of the U.S.-China Business Council. Of note, he donated $65M to the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation in 2022, which is the largest private gift the organization has ever received.

Frederick W. Smith with Senator Elizabeth Dole, head of the American Red Cross, during the announcement of FedEx’s support for worldwide disaster relief. Photo courtesy of Frederick W. Smith.

Founded in 2001, the Military Times’ Service Member of the Year program “honors outstanding military members from each branch of service who have demonstrated exemplary military service going beyond the call of duty.”

“Frederick W. Smith is our distinguished ‘Veteran of the Year’ for 2024,” said Michael Reinstein, Chairman of Military Times Foundation, in a press release. “Smith’s remarkable legacy, from his courageous service in the Marine Corps to the groundbreaking founding of FedEx, is a testament to his unwavering dedication to service and leadership. Decorated with the Silver Star, Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts, Smith’s philanthropy, including a record-breaking $65 million donation to the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, underscores his ongoing commitment to supporting veterans. This is a heartfelt recognition of Frederick W. Smith’s enduring impact on both the business and veteran communities.”

Smith remains a steadfast leader in the business and veteran community. He not only donates his time but also his financial talents to make things happen. His Marine Corps-honed philosophy lives on at FedEx and in his charitable efforts. BZ (Bravo Zulu) to Mr. Smith for a job well done and for earning a worthy nomination as the 2024 Military Veteran of the Year! Semper Fi