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Fedex Corporation Business Information, Profile, and History

942 South Shady Grove Road
Memphis, Tennessee 38120

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In today's Network Economy, FedEx Corporation is uniquely positioned to leverage the power of networks to help connect our customers to the high-tech, high-speed global marketplace.

History of Fed Ex Corporation

FedEx Corporation is synonymous with overnight delivery, an industry the company developed during the 1970s and one which, nearly three decades later, it continues to dominate. The market leader has restructured for the 21st century and is now composed of five major operating companies: FedEx Express, FedEx Ground, FedEx Freight, FedEx Custom Critical, and FedEx Trade Networks. Operating in 211 countries, FedEx Express is the world's largest express shipping company. FedEx Ground ships small packages by ground and is the second largest provider of such services in North America. FedEx Freight provides regional freight deliveries on a less-than-truckload basis. FedEx Custom Critical serves customers who need very critically timed shipments. Finally, FedEx Trade Networks furnishes a variety of consulting, customs brokerage, and information technology services. Every business day FedEx makes almost five million physical shipments and processes over 100 million electronic transactions. FedEx thus uses its planes, ground vehicles, and electronic technologies to speed up transportation so that companies and individuals can transfer time-sensitive material across vast distances in virtually seamless fashion.

From Term Paper Topic to Reality: 1970s

FedEx was founded as Federal Express Corporation in 1971, by 28-year-old Memphis, Tennessee, native Frederick W. Smith. Smith, a former Marine pilot in Vietnam, originally outlined his idea for an overnight delivery service in a term paper he wrote for a Yale University economics class. He felt that air freight had different requirements than air passenger service and that a company specializing in air freight rather than making it an add-on to passenger service would find a lucrative business niche. Speed was more important than cost, in Smith's view, and access to smaller cities was essential. His strategies included shipping all packages through a single hub and building a private fleet of aircraft. Company-owned planes would free the service from commercial airline schedules and shipping regulations, while a single hub would permit the tight control that got packages to their destinations overnight. In making his dream a reality, Smith selected Memphis as his hub: it was centrally located and despite inclement weather its modern airport rarely closed.

Smith supplemented a $4 million inheritance from his father with $91 million in venture capital to get his idea off the ground. In 1973 FedEx began service in 25 cities with a fleet of 14 Dassault Falcon aircraft and 389 employees. The planes, which were relatively small in size, collected packages from airports every night and brought them to Memphis, where they were immediately sorted. They were then flown to airports close to their destination and delivered by FedEx trucks the following morning.

Smith's idea was costly indeed; it required creating an entire system before the company's first day of business. FedEx added to these start-up costs by beginning expensive advertising and direct-mail campaigns in 1975. The company lost $29 million in its first 26 months of operation: in 1975 alone it gained $43.5 million in sales against an $11.5 million loss. Smith's investors considered removing him from the helm of the fledgling company, but company President Arthur Bass backed the young founder. Bass improved delivery schedules and FedEx's volume climbed to the point where it was profitable: By late 1976 the company was carrying an average of 19,000 packages a night, and by year's end it was $3.6 million in the black.

In 1977 company profits hit $8 million on sales of $110 million. The company had 31,000 regular customers, including such giants as IBM and the U.S. Air Force, which used it to ship spare parts. It also shipped blood, organs for transplant, drugs, and other items requiring swift transport. FedEx serviced 75 airports and 130 cities. While the major airlines gave the company stiff competition on heavily traveled passenger routes, there was virtually no competition on routes between smaller cities. Its principal competitor, Emery Air Freight, used commercial airlines to ship packages, giving FedEx an important time advantage.

Airline Deregulation Fueling Growth: 1977

Deregulation of the airline industry in 1977 gave the still-struggling company an important boost. At the time of FedEx's startup, the U.S. airline industry had been subject to tight federal regulation. In fact, the company had only managed to get into business through an exemption that allowed any company to enter the common carrier business if its payloads were under 7,500 pounds. These self-same regulations, written in 1938 to protect passenger airlines, would ultimately hold back FedEx's growth. The company was forced to fly up to eight small Falcon jets side-by-side to bigger markets when use of one larger jet would have saved money. Smith led a legislative fight to end regulation, and a bill doing so was passed in 1977. Deregulation meant the company could fly anywhere in the United States anytime, and use larger aircraft including 727s, and later, DC-10s. FedEx bought a fleet of used 727-1OOCs, using its Falcons to expand into small- and medium-sized markets.

In 1978, with its prospects looking solid, FedEx went public, selling its first shares on the New York Stock Exchange. The move raised needed capital and gave the company's backers a chance to regain a portion of their initial investment. Profits for 1979 were $21.4 million on sales of $258.5 million. By late 1980 FedEx was well established and growing at about 40 percent a year. It had 6,700 employees and flew 65,000 packages a night to 89 cities across the United States. Its fleet included 32 Falcons, 15 727s, and five 737s.

Explosive growth continued as a tidal wave of businesses switched to overnight service. Miniaturization of consumer electronics and scientific instruments translated into increasing numbers of small, valuable packages needing express shipment. In addition, many U.S. companies were shifting to just-in-time inventories as a way to keep prices down, lessen quality-control problems, and cut costs. Consequently, these companies often needed emergency shipment of goods and parts, and FedEx was there to provide that much needed service. It soon began billing itself as a "500-mile-an-hour warehouse."

Competition and Price Wars During the 1980s

A decline in the reliability of the U.S. Postal Service caused even more companies to switch to FedEx for important packages. Courier-Paks became the fastest growing part of the company's business, accounting for about 40 percent of revenue. In 1980 Courier-Paks—envelopes, boxes, or tubes used for important documents, photographs, blueprints, and other items—cost the consumer $17 but guaranteed overnight delivery. By mid-1980 the company had eight DC-10s on order or option from Continental Airlines, each capable of carrying 100,000 pounds of small packages. It had also acquired 23 additional used 727s, and operated 2,000 delivery vans.

In mid-1981 FedEx announced a new product that would bring it into direct competition with the United States Postal Service (USPS) for the first time: the overnight letter. The document-size cardboard envelope, which could contain up to two ounces, would be delivered overnight for $9.50 at that time.

By 1981 Federal Express had the largest sales of any U.S. air freight company, unseating competitors such as Emery, Airborne Freight, and Purolator Courier, which had gone into business about two decades earlier. Unlike FedEx, competitors shipped packages of all sizes using regularly scheduled airlines, and did not stress speed; FedEx's narrowly focused, speed-oriented service won over many of its competitor's customers. To compete, Emery copied FedEx's strategy, buying its own planes, opening a small-package sorting center, and pushing overnight delivery. Airborne also entered the small-package air express business. United Parcel Service (UPS), the leading package-shipper by truck, moved into the air-express business in 1981. The USPS began heavily marketing its own overnight-mail service after FedEx's Courier-Pak began eating into its revenues. The Postal Service's overnight mail was about half the price of FedEx's, but was not as accessible in many locations.

While FedEx was the leader in the U.S. overnight package-delivery industry, DHL Worldwide Courier Express Network built a similar service overseas; the two would become major competitors when FedEx started building its own overseas network. Such increased competition put pressure on FedEx's niche, but its lead was large and its reputation excellent. In 1983 the company reached $1 billion in annual revenues, the first company in the United States to do so within ten years of its start-up without mergers or acquisitions.

Aggressively Pursuing International Market Dominance: 1980s

In 1984 FedEx made its first acquisition, Gelco Express, a Minneapolis-based package courier that served 84 countries. Hoping to recreate its U.S. market dominance overseas, the company made further acquisitions in Britain, the Netherlands, and the United Arab Emirates. Meanwhile, UPS also began building a competing overseas system.

By the late 1970s Smith had realized that up to 15 percent of the company's Courier-Pak business was information that would eventually be digitally transmitted as telephone and computer technology improved. He spent $100 million to develop his own electronic-mail system, which was launched in 1984 as ZapMail. A system for sending letters by fax machine and couriers, ZapMail was plagued by technology problems from the beginning: fax machines broke down frequently; light-toned originals would not transmit; minor telephone-line disturbances interrupted transmissions. ZapMail cost $35 for documents up to five pages, plus $1.00 for each additional page, and high-volume customers soon discovered it was less expensive to install their own fax machines. The program also faced competition from MCI Communications' electronic-mail system. ZapMail was still losing money in 1986 when FedEx abandoned the system, taking a $340 million charge against earnings. In line with the company's policy of limiting layoffs, the 1,300 employees working on the ZapMail system were absorbed into other FedEx operations.

In 1985 FedEx took a major step in its attempt to expand its services to Europe by opening a European hub at the Brussels airport. Revenue reached $2 billion in 1985. In 1986 the company opened sorting centers in Oakland, California, and Newark, New Jersey, to more quickly handle shipments to nearby high-volume destinations. In addition, FedEx's hubs were being transformed into warehouses for its clients, as parts were stored there until customers needed them, then shipped overnight. For example, IBM used FedEx to store mainframe parts and get them quickly to malfunctioning computer systems. This trend coincided with a decline in FedEx's overnight mail volume, which was hurt by the spread of fax machines and the lower rates charged by competitors. Revenue for 1987 was $3.2 billion, while rival UPS collected about $1.7 billion from overnight delivery.

By 1988 FedEx, with 54,000 employees, was providing service to about 90 countries and claimed to ship about 50 percent of U.S. overnight packages. Mounting competition, however, had led to a price war that eroded company profits from 16.9 percent of revenue in 1981 to 11 percent in 1987. Profits in 1988 were $188 million on revenue of $3.9 billion.

Expanding overseas proved tougher than FedEx had anticipated, and the company's international business lost $74 million between 1985 and 1989. In February 1989, hoping to quickly develop a global delivery system, FedEx bought Tiger International, Inc., for $883 million, thereby acquiring its heavy cargo airline, Flying Tiger Line. Before the acquisition, FedEx had landing rights in five airports outside the United States: Montreal, Toronto, Brussels, London, and limited rights in Tokyo. The company hoped to supplement these with the delivery routes Tiger had built over its 40-year history, which included landing rights in Paris and Frankfurt, three Japanese airports, and cities throughout east Asia and South America. FedEx could use its own planes on these routes instead of subcontract to other carriers, which the company had been doing in many countries. Tiger's large fleet of long-range aircraft also gave FedEx an important foothold in the heavy-freight business. In 1988 Tiger had 22 747s, 11 727s, and six DC-8s; 6,500 employees; and revenue of $1.4 billion. Unfortunately, many of Tiger's planes needed quick repairs to meet U.S. government safety deadlines, which led to lower than anticipated profits.

The purchase price paid by the company, which several analysts claimed was too much, also increased FedEx's debt by nearly 250 percent to $2.1 billion, and put the company into a market that was more capital-intensive and cyclical than the domestic small-package market. Owning Tiger also put FedEx in an awkward position, since many of Tiger's best customers were FedEx's competitors, and the company feared it might lose many of them. Such fears proved unfounded, although Tiger's on-time record temporarily fell to 80 percent after the takeover, climbing to 96 percent by early 1990.

At the same time price wars continued with competitors, some of which made inroads into the overnight market. Earnings from UPS's overnight service rose 63 percent between 1984 and 1988, and its revenues tripled. FedEx had a 55 percent share of the U.S. overnight letter market and shipped 33 percent of U.S. overnight packages. It was clearly the leader in the express delivery business, but its growth was slowing. FedEx's U.S. shipment volume grew 58 percent in 1984 but declined to 25 percent in 1988. The company compensated by pushing its higher-margin package service, which grew 53 percent from 1987 to 1989. Analysts estimated that packages provided 80 percent of FedEx's revenues and about 90 percent of its profits.

In April 1990 FedEx raised its domestic prices, ending the seven-year price war. The U.S. air-freight industry was consolidating, and rival UPS had heavy capital expenses from its own overnight air service, giving its competitor room to raise its prices. FedEx needed the extra profits, estimated at between $50 million and $75 million a year, to help pay for losses in its international business. Its foreign operations lost $194 million in 1989 as it struggled to integrate Tiger and build a delivery system in Europe. Tiger was unionized but unstructured; FedEx was non-union but bureaucratic. Several uneasy months passed while the two systems were unified and a pilot seniority list was drawn up. To help increase overseas tonnage, the company introduced one-, two-, and three-day service to large shippers between 25 cities worldwide and 85 cities in the United States.

Business in the Early 1990s

FedEx entered the 1990s with increasing competition in the U.S. market, but was able to maintain its leading market share. UPS, now its main competitor, continued to slowly woo away some customers by introducing volume discounts, a policy which it had resisted for years. FedEx responded by instituting a customer-by-customer review of its own pricing strategy that resulted in a consolidation of subcontractor trucking routes, the streamlining of pickup and delivery routes, and an increased profitability of certain freight runs; in some cases prices were also adjusted upward. Enhancements were offered to express-service customers, including earlier-in-the day service options, computer software that allowed FedEx clients to electronically prepare all shipping documentation, and Internet tracking of shipments via FedEx's new homepage. The company's network of retail affiliates was also expanded, with new FedEx drop-boxes installed in more than 870 office supply superstores nationwide. The results: Despite erosion from aggressive competitors, FedEx's domestic package volume rallied in mid-1992, with revenues growing from $7.6 billion to $7.8 billion over the previous year.

Internally, FedEx began companywide cost-containment policies to reduce waste and overhead, as well as gain increased efficiency in meeting the needs of its customers. The company's Station Review Process allowed the most effective local policies to be shared by the entire FedEx station network. Despite cost-cutting measures, however, employee-related expenses rose when FedEx became mired in over two years of contract negotiations with the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). Despite what Smith had considered generous enough salaries and benefit packages to keep the threat of unionization at bay, heated labor negotiations ultimately resulted in the 1996 unionization of FedEx's 3,100 pilots. However, only a few weeks after the pro-union vote, an organization of company pilots was petitioning the National Labor Mediation Board to call a second vote to oust the union, leading analysts to doubt ALPA's continued influence over FedEx budgetary policy. On the plus side, the expiration of a federal cargo tax during the federal budget impasse of January 1996 would provide FedEx with a fiscal boost as the company maintained prices despite a temporary hiatus in federally directed excise payments.

In the early 1990s FedEx's foreign operations were troubled, and their losses dragged down company earnings. While overall sales rose from $5.2 billion in 1989 to $7.69 billion in fiscal 1991, operating income fell from $424 million to $279 million over the same period, much of it resulting from the costly development of overseas markets. Industry analysts were divided over whether or how soon the company would be able to make its foreign operations profitable. Some analysts questioned how long FedEx could accept international losses while carrying $2.15 billion in long-term debt.

Smith countered such concerns by arguing that when the company's international volume increased, international service would become profitable. In an effort to boost that volume, FedEx traded in its 727s for larger capacity Airbus Industrie jet aircraft for their three daily European-destination flights, filling extra cargo space with non-express packages to increase per-flight profitability. In 1994 the company became the first international express cargo carrier to receive systemwide ISO 9001 certification; by mid-decade international service accounted for 12 percent of the company's business: FedEx linked over 200 countries and territories worldwide, representing the bulk of global economic transactions. By 1996 the company could boast sales of $10.27 billion against operating income of $624 million.

Expansion in the Late 1990s and the New Century

Aggressive international route expansion included creating divisions in several hemispheres. A Latin America and Caribbean division was created in 1995 to integrate services within the world's second-fastest growing economic region. In September of that year the company introduced FedEx AsiaOne: a next-business-day service between Asian countries and the United States. Via a hub established at Subic Bay, Philippines, FedEx planned to duplicate its successful hub-and-spoke delivery service within 11 of that continent's commercial and financial centers. Unfortunately, the company's plans were confounded by the Japanese government, which limited FedEx's flying rights from Japan to other Asian countries in mid-1996, after a series of talks between the United States and Japan failed to yield a compromise. While the U.S. government contemplated appropriate sanctions against the Japanese government for its failure to honor existing flight privileges with FedEx, Japan viewed the company's growing success in Asia as a threat to its own overseas cargo industry. Despite difficulties with Japan, the extension of its world renowned service to the Pacific Rim area placed FedEx in a strategic position within one of the fastest-growing economic centers in the world, particularly with regard to China, where the company was the sole U.S.-based cargo service then authorized to do business.

In 2001 FedEx worked to gain approval to create a new hub at the Piedmont Triad International (PTI) Airport near Greensboro, North Carolina. PTI planned to build a new runway to accommodate FedEx. Critics included the Cardinal West and Prestwich homeowners associations that opposed the noise, air, and water pollution, and decreased land values that they felt would result from the new hub. Meanwhile, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service in January 2001 announced a $6.3 billion, seven-year cooperative agreement in which FedEx would use its planes to carry first-class, Express, and Priority mail. In June 2001 FedEx began putting its collection boxes at post offices, and the system became operational a few months later. Responding to these developments, Emery Worldwide Airlines filed a lawsuit against the USPS deal for lack of competition. Ryan International Airlines and Evergreen International Aviation also protested the alliance in U.S. House of Representatives committee meetings. The U.S. Justice Department considered starting an antitrust investigation into the USPS/FedEx arrangement.

In 2001 FedEx Corporation was a holding company with five main subsidiaries. FedEx Express served customers in 211 countries. Every business day it delivered 3.3 million packages using a fleet of 662 aircraft, including large planes such as the Airbus A300, McDonnell DC10, and Boeing 727, and also smaller planes such as the Cessna 208. With over 45,500 ground vehicles, FedEx Express remained the leader in the overnight express delivery business. Based in Pittsburgh, FedEx Ground (formerly RPS) handled small-package delivery with over 9,000 vehicles. It delivered about 1.6 million packages every business day, according to the company web site. With services in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Mexico, FedEx Ground was North America's second largest ground carrier and delivered small packages business to business. Its FedEx Home Delivery was added in March 2000. FedEx Ground reported annual revenue of $2 billion in fiscal 2000. According to a Morning Call article on February 8, 2001, FedEx Ground delivered items in 70 percent of the United States, compared to its competitors United Parcel Service (UPS) and the U.S. Postal Service, which had full coverage.

FedEx Freight, the third subsidiary, provided next-day and second-day regional freight services on a less than truckload (LTL) basis. With $1.9 billion in annual sales, FedEx Freight included two formerly independent trucking companies. Viking Freight, Inc. was founded in 1966 in San Jose, California. It shipped goods in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, parts of Texas near El Paso, and also Alaska and Hawaii via ocean shipping. It also transported goods into Mexico and Canada. FedEx Freight's second trucking firm was American Freightways Corporation, based in Harrison, Arkansas. Founded in 1982, it served most states and also the Caribbean islands, Guam, and Central and South America through partnerships with other companies. This LTL carrier's history was included on its web site at www.arfw.com. In 2000 its 17,000 employees brought in annual sales of $1.43 billion. FedEx acquired American Freightways in February 2001. Subsidiary FedEx Custom Critical picked up and delivered whatever its customers needed around the clock and every day of the year. Based in Akron, Ohio, FedEx Custom Critical delivered about 1,000 shipments daily to customers in the United States, Canada, and Europe. The FedEx web site described this subsidiary as "North America's largest time-specific, critical shipment carrier." FedEx Trade Networks served customers worldwide by providing customs brokerage, consulting, and electronic services. Founded in February 2000, this fifth subsidiary employed about 1,600 persons. Its operating companies included Tower Group International, Inc., which had 63 North American offices and also Asian offices through agent partners; Worldtariff, Limited, which published customs duty and tax data for 101 nations; and Caribbean Transportation Services, the "leading provider of airfreight forwarding services between the United States and Puerto Rico," according to the FedEx Web site. FedEx customers placed 60,000 daily telephone calls to company representatives to keep track of their shipments. The Internet and electronic technology were used for 1.2 million daily delivery trackings through the fedex.com web site. This combination of high-touch and high-tech methods of tracking millions of daily shipments proved crucial to the success of FedEx.

FedEx in 2001 used 94,800 ground vehicles, including its long-haul trucks, to deliver letters, small packages, and larger freight items to international destinations. That was combined with its air fleet of small and large planes, electronic message system, and strategic alliances, including that with La Poste in Europe. "FedEx has built what is the most seamless global air and ground network in its industry, connecting more than 90 percent of the world's economic activity," said William G. Margaritis, FedEx Corporation's vice president for world communications and investor relations. With the rapid rise of virtually instantaneous electronic mail, some wondered if FedEx overnight mail delivery was as important as it was in the past. Margaritis pointed out that the company received only 9.3 percent of its revenue from overnight express mail, and that much of that mail could not be delivered electronically, such as gifts, electronic components, and medical equipment.

FedEx completed its fiscal year ending May 31, 2001 with mixed financial results. The good news was an 8 percent increase in company revenue to $19.6 billion from $18.3 billion the year before. However, operating income fell 12 percent from $1.22 billion to $1.07 billion, and net income decreased 15 percent from $688 million to $584 million. In 2001 FedEx faced tough competition, especially from United Parcel Service, the industry leader in ground deliveries. It still competed with the U.S. Postal Service, but its cooperative venture with the latter was a major step for both entities. In any case, FedEx had expanded far beyond what Frederick W. Smith started back in 1971. Thirty years later, CEO Smith remained as the head of FedEx, providing leadership continuity during the company's rapid expansion and change.

Principal Subsidiaries: FedEx Ground; FedEx Express; FedEx Freight, comprised of Viking Freight, Inc. and American Freightways, Inc.; FedEx Custom Critical; FedEx Trade Networks; Federal Express Aviation Services; Federal Express International; Flying Tiger Line Inc.; Tiger Inter Modal Inc.; Tiger Trucking Subsidiary Inc.; Warren Transport Inc.

Principal Competitors: DHL Worldwide Express; United Parcel Service, Inc.; United States Postal Service.


  • Key Dates:
  • 1971: Federal Express Corporation is founded.
  • 1973: Company begins its operations with overnight shipping to 25 cities in the United States.
  • 1977: Federal deregulation of the airlines leads to growth for company.
  • 1978: Federal Express is first listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
  • 1981: Company introduces its overnight letter.
  • 1984: Purchase of Gelco Express International leads to service in Europe and the Pacific Rim; company begins its ZapMail system of electronic mail but ends it two years later.
  • 1985: Federal Express opens its European hub at Brussels.
  • 1986: Sorting centers in Oakland, California, and Newark, New Jersey, are opened.
  • 1989: Company buys Tiger International, Inc. to greatly expand its international business.
  • 1994: Federal Express Corporation shortens its name to FedEx.
  • 1995: Latin American and Caribbean division is started; company begins its AsiaOne program through a new hub at Subic Bay, Philippines.
  • 1998: FedEx becomes FDX Corporation and acquires Caliber System, Inc.
  • 1999: opens first European hub at Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport and a Miami office to serve Latin America.
  • 2000: FDX Corporation reverts to the name FedEx Corporation.
  • 2001: American Freightways Corporation is acquired and FedEx is reorganized; FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service begin a seven-year cooperative venture.

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