It’s rare for a chief executive to hold the top job for a long stretch. Five years is the average stint for most American CEOs. But Fred Smith is the exception. He’s been piloting FedEx since he founded the delivery company in 1971. In the past 46 years he has built FedEx into a $47 billion global powerhouse that does business in 220 countries. FedEx is ranked number 58 on the Fortune 500 list of America’s biggest companies.
At 72 years old, Smith shows no signs of slowing down. He is still moving as fast as a FedEx jet. But he did pause recently to talk with Fortune’s Susie Gharib about leadership and the lessons he’s learned.
He says “having an effective strategy and everyone understanding what that strategy is” has been the key to his success. Change and innovation are the other crucial ingredients. Entrepreneurs today would call him a “disruptor.” He invented an industry that used airplanes and trucks to quickly deliver time-sensitive packages bypassing the U.S. Postal Service—a revolutionary concept for the transportation industry. He continues to come up with new business ideas and has created a culture of innovation at FedEx so that every one of the company’s 400,000 employees understands that “you have to change constantly.”
“There’s an old saw, I don’t know who said it but whoever it was, was pretty smart,” says Smith. “If you don’t like change, you’re going to hate extinction.”