Atlantic Council’s Distinguished Business Leadership Award for FedEx Corp. Chairman and CEO Frederick W. Smith
2019 Distinguished Leadership Awards
Distinguished Business Leadership Award
John F.W. Rogers,
Atlantic Council Board of Directors
President and CEO,
Frederick W. Smith,
Chairman and CEO,
Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Location: Washington, D.C.
Time: 7:00 p.m. EDT
Date: Tuesday, April 30, 2019
ANNOUNCER: Mr. Fred Kempe.
FREDERICK KEMPE: Welcome back, everybody. Welcome back, folks. So I love the buzz in the room. It’s always nice when you invite 800 of your closest friends, and they all come. So I hope you were as inspired by the first half of the evening as I was. I would love it if you would join me in a round of applause for Luke Frazier and the American Pops Orchestra. (Cheers, applause.) You may have noticed that we have not had Luke Frazier and the American Pops Orchestra always at the Atlantic Council dinner. So it’s just such a pleasure to have you here, Luke.
Also, do pick up your gift bags. Not only do we have Adrienne’s Constitution – and Adrienne, you’ve left it up here, I’ll bring it back to you – but we have a document that’s almost as important as that, which is the Atlantic Council Annual Report. (Laughter.) We have a book connected with our resilience center that’s a must-read. And also, I must say there’s a Foreign Policy magazine with our ad in it there. (Applause.) We’re very happy for the in-kind sponsorship and support we’ve had from Foreign Policy and Edelman, so thanks to both of you. (Applause.)
For 60 years, the Atlantic Council’s pursued a mission bestowed upon us by our founders to advocate for and galvanize constructive U.S. leadership alongside our global friends and allies to shape the future. Thanks to so many of you in this audience, the Atlantic Council has never been as robust as it is today, yet the tests we have face have probably never been quite as complex or daunting. We had strategic retreats of board and staff in the last months, and they’ve produced a consensus that the Atlantic Council’s work must wrestle with five interwoving, defining challenges.
First, we must peacefully navigate a new era of major power competition. Second, we must address new challenges to our democracies and the surge of autocracies. Third, we must reinvigorate and perhaps even reinvent the global system of rules and institutions that the Atlantic Council’s founders helped create. Fourth, we must help define a new and help execute a role in shaping this new world. And then, finally, we must harness the opportunities and manage the risks of an unprecedented era of technological change.
We, at the Atlantic Council, don’t see any of these challenges as reason for despair, but we do see this as a call to action. For all of you in this room and everything we do at the Atlantic Council. Our community has faced far greater challenges than this. The challenges we face are no match for the brand of leadership represented by you in this room tonight. Among you are some 800 guests from more than 45 countries, including more than 60 corporate chief executives, chairmen and presidents, about the same number of ambassadors, countless other senior officials, business executives, media and civil-society leaders. Thank you so much for one of the most amazing communities of influence I can possibly imagine. Thank you for being here. (Applause.)
I would particularly like to recognize our former heads of state and sitting ministers in the room with us this evening. And if you could hold your applause – and I’d like them to stand if they would not mind.
Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt – (applause) – former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, former Danish Prime Minister and former Secretary General of NATO Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, which – (applause) – by, the way, this shows that we’re bipartisan even in Denmark – (laughter) – and Romanian Vice Prime Minister for Strategic Partnerships Implementation Anna Birchall. Please stand, Anna.
Give them a round of applause. (Applause.)
And as we gather this evening to celebrate NATO, I’d like to thank again the NATO member-country ambassadors who took part in our remarkable opening procession. I know how hard your schedules are. It’s wonderful to have you here. Thank you for representing your countries with us this evening.
I also want to give a special Atlantic Council welcome to the elected officials from both sides of the Atlantic who are with us: Congressman – and please do stand – Congressman Cohen, Congressman Rose, Congressman Waltz, Senator Alexander – (cheers, applause) – and member – (applause) – and member of the German Bundestag, Alexander Radwan, please stand. (Applause.)
Finally, I would like to give a salute and offer my deepest respect to the former Supreme Allied Commanders who you saw on stage earlier this evening: General Abrial, General Clark, General Jones, General Joulwan and General Ralston. Please stand so we can salute you. (Applause.)
And as we’re recognizing military leaders, I’d also like to salute General Colin Powell, an honorary director of the Atlantic Council board. (Cheers, applause.)
So I was befuddled, and I once asked him, so do I call you Secretary Powell or General Powell? And he said, oh, there’s no question about that. It’s General Powell. (Laughter.)
You can explain later to people why you felt that way. (Laughter.)
This evening – and the work would not be possible of the Atlantic Council without our community of supporters. I want to salute the co-chairs of tonight’s dinner. I’d ask those co-chairs in attendance to stand as I read out their names. It’s an incredibly impressive list, but it is a little bit of a long list. So please hold your applause until I’ve finished.
Airbus, represented by Jeff Knittel; Adrienne Arsht; the Blackstone Charitable Foundation; Ahmed Charai; Chevron, represented by Heather Kulp; Edelman, represented by Richard Edelman; FedEx Corporation, Bob Gelbard; Joe Gibbs Racing; Mary Howell; KMW, represented by Bob Schulz; Leonardo, represented by Bill Lynn; Lockheed Martin, represented by Marillyn Hewson; Dave McCormick and Dina Powell. (Scattered applause.) Yeah, I knew there would be some applause to interrupt at that point. (Laughter.)
MetLife; MNG Group of Companies, represented by Merva (sp) Günal, representing her father, Mehmet Nazif Günal. Please give our best to your father, Merva (sp). Ahmet Oren; Penguin Random House; Raytheon, represented by John Harris; John Rogers, chairman of the Atlantic Council; Saab, represented by Erik Smith; SAIC, represented by Nazzic Keene; Southwest Holdings, represented by Tewodros Ashenafi; Textron, represented by Mary Claire Murphy; Thales; Thomson Reuters, represented by Kate Friedrich; Zurich, represented by Francis Bouchard, which is also the first corporate sponsor of the newly named Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center. Please join me in a round of applause for these co-chairs. (Applause.)
General Jones always reminds me that vision without resources is hallucination. (Laughter.) So thank you for – thank you for allowing us to have a larger vision. And with that, let’s keep the show going. (Applause.)
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentleman, please welcome to the stage former United States Senator Lamar Alexander. (Applause.)
SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER (R-TN): Just before I came up, the person I’m about to introduce said to me one word – brevity – and it reminded me of what the late Senator Everett Dirksen said to his son-in-law, Senator Howard Baker, after Howard Baker made his maiden address on the floor of the United States Senate and he spoke too long, and Dirksen went over to his son-in-law and said – and Baker said to Dirksen, “Senator Dirksen, how did I do?” And Dirksen said, “Howard, perhaps occasionally you might enjoy the luxury of an unexpressed thought.” (Laughter.) So let’s see how I do.
There is so much media these days who seem to honor individuals, in the words of the late Daniel Boorstin, who are famous for being famous. So it’s refreshing to honor someone whose life is one of such remarkable accomplishment. Atlantic Council’s awards are supposed to go to individuals who have achieved something in military, business, art, humanitarian, politics.
The awardee tonight certainly has earned his military stripes – four years in the Marines, two tours of Vietnam, Silver Star, Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts – and in business his thesis at Yale University, which earned a C+, is an inspiration to C+ students everywhere – (laughter) – because he had – he had this strange idea of buying big airplanes and hauling packages to Memphis, Tennessee, every night and then delivering them the next day to their address. In 1973, that meant that Federal Express had 14 planes. They brought 186 packages to 25 sites on the first night absolutely positively overnight.
Now Fed Ex has 678 aircraft, 150,000 trucks, 15 million business shipments every day. Staying ahead of the curve has not been easy. When I was governor in the ’80s, a new technology arrived called the facsimile. (Laughter.) Some of you may know about this. So Fred Smith was – he had studied the Japanese. He knew they were good at characters. We had Japanese investments. We had a dinner at the governor’s residence. He had an idea. We’ll put the Fed Ex fax on the corner and people will go down to the corner and they’ll fax their fax and pick up their fax and that’s what will happen. That didn’t work. But Fed Ex overcame that, and today they have more than 450,000 employees worldwide and they’ve added a new verb to the English language called Fed Ex. And, most remarkably, the founder, in 1973 is still the CEO today, 46 years later. (Applause.)
In public policy, Fred Smith has been an advocate for open skies, for free markets, for electric vehicles. Insofar as politics goes, he’s had the good sense not to run for anything, but he’s been deeply involved in many different ways and everybody in Washington who’s in the Congress will tell you he’s the most effective advocate for his point of view than any of us know because he does it himself. He knows the subject, he makes his case, and he goes on his way. And as a humanitarian, everyone in Memphis knows that no one surpasses his generosity for that city and for the lives of the people who live there.
So congratulations to the Atlantic Council – (applause) – for your work to promote stability and security around the world. In 1961, the threat was communism. Today it is different: cyberattacks from Russia and North Korea, instability in the Middle East, civil unrest in Venezuela.
And congratulations to the Atlantic Council, also, for having the good judgment to honor Fred Smith. He is the only person I know who, all by himself, has become a walking, talking, international economic indicator. (Laughter.)
Ladies and gentlemen, Fred Smith. (Cheers, applause.)
FREDERICK W. SMITH: Thank you. Thank you. (Continued applause.)
Thank you very much, Senator Alexander, one of the great statesmen of our times, obviously represented our home state with distinction for many, many years. He is a renaissance man, university president, athlete, musician – just Google up Lamar Alexander Alfalfa Club when he ran for president of Alfalfa, and watch his musical acceptance speech. It is quite extraordinary. (Laughter.)
I’m very pleased to be on this stage with Adrienne. She, too, is a national resource as was well described tonight. You heard all of her accomplishments. What they didn’t say is she actually started in the air carrier business, in the air cargo section of TWA, as I recall, so she took a right turn at some point, it would seem to me, with the philanthropy she demonstrated tonight.
So this SameDay Bot, which was developed using the technology of Dean Kamen, who is also a national resource – he is the Thomas Edison of our time. (Applause.) Just Google up Dean Kamen and first robotics, and you will see the tremendous effect he is having on kids every place in the world and the fantastic inventions, including the chassis for this FedEx SameDay Bot, who will be delivering things to you 15 minutes from your local store here pretty soon, I’m quite confident.
I think it’s an example of the innovation and creativity that has marked FedEx over 46 years of operation, and there’s more to come, I can assure you. Stay tuned.
As I said, I’m honored to be up here representing 450,000 FedEx global team members who earned this award. We’re proud to connect people and possibilities everywhere, and Senator Alexander’s kind remarks noted the scope of FedEx operations that allowed us to deliver, this day, 14.5 million shipments to 220 countries and territories.
At Fred Kempe’s request, I couldn’t make a film, but I’ve included a couple of biographical photographs that I believe are pertinent to the Atlantic Council’s important mission. Of particular note tonight regarding this event is the large FedEx presence in Europe where we have almost 50,000 people employed in 50 markets in a thousand facilities. These include major hubs at Stansted, Liege, Cologne, Milan, and our largest, at Charles de Gaulle airport, or CDG as it is better known. It sits right outside of Paris to the north-northeast of the city. We operate 700 flights and about 55,000 highway trips per week in Europe.
Now, France has always been a very important country for FedEx. We began operations using French aircraft, Dassault Falcon 20 freighters. Each is about as big as one of the engines on our 777 freighters today. (Laughter.) Our first Falcon, 8FE Wendy, sits in the Smithsonian at Dulles Airport. All planes are named for FedEx team members’ children drawn by lot. Today, FedEx actually operates a few more than Senator Alexander mentioned, 679 aircraft. (Laughter.)
I’m especially proud to be here tonight with one of France’s greatest citizens, whom I greatly admire, Christine Lagarde, the distinguished director of the International Monetary Fund. She was previously a partner and ultimately chairman of Baker McKenzie, which is FedEx’s global legal advisor. So she represented FedEx ably for many years before becoming the minister of finance for France.
The modern strategic relationship between the U.S. and Europe now spans over a century and began when this country entered World War I in April 1917. One of my good friends in college was Dick Pershing. Dick was the grandson of General John J. Pershing, who led the American expeditionary force into France. We often sat in Dick Pershing’s library in New York City under the portrait of the great general. And you could see in those stern, piercing eyes the determination and resolve that oversaw the unprecedented defeat that he accomplished to turn the tide in the great war.
As Senator Alexander mentioned, I had the great honor of serving in the Marine Corps immediately after graduating from Yale in 1966. Two years later, in 1968, I was in Vietnam as a company commander in the 3rd Battalion 5th Marine Regiment, a renowned unit in a storied branch of the American military. It was the 5th and 6th regiments that composed the two main units of Pershing’s Marine brigade 100 years ago in 1918 that initiated the first major fighting for Americans against the highly experienced German army. That spring the Germans launched a great offensive against the allies in the West. Germany’s key objective was to finally take Paris, thereby winning the war after four years of stalemate and unprecedented slaughter.
The Marine brigade had been assigned to guard the road 40 miles northeast of Paris. The tip of the German spear was the Wald Belleau, a heavily wooded hunting preserve occupied by tough German veterans dug in among ravines and tangled foliage. The untested Marines of the AEF attacked the Germans through a wheat field, swept by intense fire, suffering 1,000 casualties on the first day alone. After nine days of assaults – excuse me – after nine assaults and twenty days of fierce close-in fighting, the Marine brigade prevailed, blunting the German advance and, Christine, saved Paris.
I believe it was at Belleau Wood on June the 6th 1918 that the seventy-year alliance honored here tonight was foreordained. It was at the cost of 10,000 Americans dead, wounded, or missing in action. The initial victory was followed over five months by a series of now legendary battles for Pershing’s armies that would end World War I at the 11th hour, on the 11th month, of the year 1918, 11th day as well, now our Veterans Day. Last year, I went with several of our senior Europe executives and our youngest daughter Sam, of FedEx government affairs, who’s here tonight, to Belleau Wood to pay my respects to 2,289 Marines and soldiers who lie in eternal repose at the beautiful Aisne-Marne Cemetery nearby.
One of those resting there was Lieutenant Weedon Osborne, who was killed the first day of the battle. He was a young Navy dentist from South Carolina who went forward voluntarily to retrieve wounded Marines and rush them to safety. Lieutenant Weedon was awarded the Medal of Honor. Sam and I laid a wreath in honor and remembrance of all the young Americans who died to preserve the freedom of Europe in both World Wars.
As FedEx grew into a significant company through the 1980s and ’90s, we were bolstered by our expansion throughout the world to the growth in global trade and communications. It was a great day when we introduced our first Boeing’s after air cargo reform in 1977, and in the 1980s we began flying our first wide-bodied freighters overseas, which Americans commitment – America’s commitment to open skies made possible. The unprecedented door-to-door trade flowing through the international networks of FedEx have truly changed the way the world works. You may find it of interest that the express super-hub in Memphis, shown here, processes more customs entry per day than any other U.S. port.
In early June 1994, FedEx conducted – or, concluded an agreement to put our largest hub in Europe at CDG. I’ll never forget the day when the general manager of CDG stopped in the middle of his briefing for our board of directors. He held up a small vial of sand from Omaha Beach, and a coin with Eisenhower likeness the airport gave every arriving veteran. He said simply: Every French school child knows about those cemeteries above the Normandy Beaches. And every French citizen knows what the Americans have done for our country in two wars. We, at FedEx, are very proud of our major hub in Europe being located in France, where we are in the midst of a major expansion now.
We fly from CDG daily to many places around the world, including Asian hubs in Guangzhou, pictured here, Singapore, Shanghai, and Osaka. We often hear now that we’re living the Asian century, and FedEx has been heavily involved on that side of the world for decades. I had the privilege to serve as chairman of both the French-American Business Council and the U.S.-China Business Council, the latter during the period when China was admitted to the WTO. This photo is the FedEx board of directors and our senior management team in 1998 being hosted by President Jiang Zemin with key members of his government in Beijing.
China’s economic growth has been unprecedented in the history of the world. Since the financial crisis of 2008 and ’(0)9, China has significantly changed its posture from a purely commercial orientation to one that is much more geopolitical with such initiatives as Made in China 2025, indigenous innovation, rapid expansion of bases in the South China Sea, and a major buildup of its navy.
While I believe the world is far better off with China having improved the living standards of hundreds of millions of its citizens, no one should ever forget this was largely done by opening the markets of Europe and the United States to Chinese exports. FedEx played a major role in facilitating China’s growth, which is why our board was welcomed by China’s president 21 years ago. I dare say, it is unlikely China’s leadership would host a Western company’s top management today in such a fashion. Times have changed.
We at FedEx were profoundly disappointed that the U.S. administration ended our country’s involvement with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which was recently consummated by the 11 other countries. Our lack of participation puts American exporters at significant disadvantage. In the same vein, the efforts to conclude the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership also ceased shortly after the new administration took office. I strongly believe both of these decisions were unfortunate. And I have had the opportunity to express that to the president himself.
In this regard, hopefully his current trade negotiations between the U.S. and China and the U.S. and Europe will further reduce trade barriers and achieve the ambitions of President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull, who began the march towards open markets with the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act of 1934.
Following World War II, the U.S. worked hard to develop rules-based institutions such as the IMF, which Christine heads, the World Bank, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which became the World Trade Organization in 1995. Without question such institutions fed the growth of global prosperity in the latter half of the 20th century, leading Europe and the U.S. to become each other’s largest trading partner and the largest recipients of each other’s foreign investments. We believe the relationship between the democracies of North America and the democracies of Europe is key, in turn, to a stable and prosperous relationship with China and the rest of the world.
From time to time I visit Arlington National Cemetery and pay my respects to my old friend Dick Pershing, who lies at the highest point in Washington alongside his grandfather General of the Armies John J. Pershing. I was about 30 miles away – and I suspect Jim Jones not much further than that – when Lieutenant Pershing was killed in Vietnam in February 1968. He served in the famed 101st Airborne that jumped into Normandy 75 years ago this June. At the pinnacle of that hallowed place I think about Dick and what he might have become, and my mind always turns then to the World War I doughboys that General Pershing took to France 100 years ago and the GIs that followed a generation later in Eisenhower’s armies during World War II.
Many of our dead from both wars rest in Arlington, and I think about what they gave for the freedom of the world and the defense of Europe. They gave everything. The deep and sacred ties between Europe and the United States transcend the here and there – here and now, dollars and cents, and the news of the day. These bonds were consecrated by the heroes that lie on the slopes below the Pershing’s graves and overseas within the beautiful American cemeteries across Europe. We forget their sacrifice and the important Atlantic relationship honored tonight at great peril to the security, prosperity, and peace of the world to come. Thank you. (Applause.)