2005年7月27日 星期三

FedEx chief takes cue from leaders in history


FedEx CEO Frederick Smith, who says he has learned far more from historical figures than from trendy leadership gurus. Whatever he's digesting, it seems to be working.

Q: Do you have a favorite leadership book?

A: There aren't very many that are important. You read half a dozen and you've got 95%. You've got to know (Edward) Deming and (J.M.) Juran if you have an interest in providing a quality product. Drucker is profound in terms of the theory of business.

【大意:領導-管理方面的書讀個5-6本就能掌握領域的九成五要點。在品質方面戴明和朱蘭是不可或缺的、杜拉克的經營說法有深意。(取材USA Today 2005/6/20)】

FedEx chief takes cue from leaders in history

Some of the most popular executive excursions are to places such as Gettysburg where business leaders are taught the consequences of making right and wrong decisions under stress. The book on a CEO's nightstand is more likely to be a biography than the latest leadership tome. History-reading CEOs include Charles Schwab, Bell South's Duane Ackerman and Abbott Laboratories' Miles White. Among the most avid is FedEx CEO Frederick Smith, who says he has learned far more from historical figures than from trendy leadership gurus. Whatever he's digesting, it seems to be working. FedEx stock is up 400% since the Fourth of July a decade ago. Smith, 60, sat down with USA TODAY corporate management reporter Del Jones at the FedEx Washington office, appropriately at 101 Constitution Ave., and a few hundred yards from the Capitol building.

Q: Why is there more to learn from historical figures than modern scholars and gurus?

A: Somebody once asked Chinese leader Chou En-lai what he thought of the French Revolution. He said: "It's too soon to tell." There are not many new things under the sun. History lessons are fairly clear and proven. Most business successes have a short duration. Tom Watson and his son were fantastic managers, but they made IBM a prominent company in 30 years and the company has gone up and down and up and down. There are more enduring lessons from history.

Q: Have you made difficult decisions that were influenced by your appreciation for history?

A: FedEx has taken a page out of Alexander the Great's book. He was better at winning the peace than at winning the wars. He reached out to the population after a military victory. Losers usually (had been) put in shackles, or had their heads cut off. He would give defeated chieftains some authority. His far-seeing management style enabled him to build the biggest empire ever, matched only by the Romans years later. We've handled acquisitions that way. Most acquisitions end up with a wholesale turnover of the management group. By making them a part of our team, we are able to make two plus two equal five.

Q: How about a more personal lesson, one that has shaped your leadership style?

A: George Marshall may be the greatest figure of the 20th century. He's the architect in large measure of the reconstruction of Europe, the Marshall plan and the United Nations. He was a very self-effacing man. He refused to write his memoirs because he said (his memories) had been paid for by taxpayers, and because the truth about a lot of people would be unpleasant for their families. Leaders and managers can learn from Gen. Marshall's life.

Q: What historical figures would have made great CEOs?

A: Marshall, obviously. Theodore Roosevelt, Peter Drucker and Cordell Hull (congressman, senator, secretary of State under Franklin Roosevelt; Hull won the Nobel Peace Prize). He was the father of the modern trading system. After World War II, the Depression and the Smoot Hawley tariff increases, Hull almost single-handedly became an advocate of open trade. He says that when goods cannot cross borders, armies will. If you look at the open markets that we enjoy today, it tracks back to Hull just as all management theory comes from Drucker.

Q: Are there any historical figures who should have been fired?

A: (Union Civil War Gen. George) McClellan certainly. He was fired, but he should have been fired a lot earlier. He was too cautious. He never had enough resources, always waiting for the optimal moment. He couldn't make a decision.

Q: Do CEOs also fall victim to procrastination, waiting for perfect conditions that never come?

A: Too many think inaction is the least risky path. Sometimes action is the most conservative and safest path. Not doing anything is exceedingly dangerous. Before Pearl Harbor, they put all the airplanes in the middle of the airfield thinking saboteurs were the biggest risk, not a carrier-borne attack. They were undone by cautiousness, not bravado.

Q: Top CEOs are often good logisticians. Can you learn any of that from history?

A: If Julius Caesar were sitting in this room he would recognize FedEx's organizational structure. He invented it. He had a proconsul in Palestine, one in Gaul and one in Britain. Each reported to a cavalry commander, each had infantrymen, an archer and so forth. Same with us. We have our person in Hong Kong, one in Brussels. Each has an IT person, each has a business unit head, each has a personnel person. The organizational structure of modern business was developed by the Romans.

Q: Had you lived in the 18th or 19th centuries, what would have been your occupation?

A: I would have been involved in some form of transportation, connecting people.

Q: CEO of the Pony Express?

A: Absolutely. It was the FedEx of its time. It had a short life. It was put out of business by the telegraph.

Q: Does that worry you? FedEx, like the Pony Express, charges a premium for speed. Why isn't the digital movement of photos and documents by e-mail today's telegraph?

A: We're the clipper ships of the computer age. We carry the pharmaceuticals, the fashion goods, the surgical kits, auto parts, airplane parts, semiconductors, high-tech. They are high-value goods and more expensive to move slowly. Container ships move 98% of the tonnage. Air is less than 2%, but almost 45% of the value. You take out petroleum and agriculture and the majority of international trade doesn't go by sea. Our business is fueled by the Internet. Order an auto part from the Sahara desert and in 24 to 48 hours it's there.

Q: Do you have a favorite leadership book?

A: There aren't very many that are important. You read half a dozen and you've got 95%. You've got to know (Edward) Deming and (J.M.) Juran if you have an interest in providing a quality product. Drucker is profound in terms of the theory of business.

Q: Any lessons to be learned from war movies?

A: Twelve O'clock High with Gregory Peck is the story of a very feeling man who has command of a unit, and he can't get the job done. The more he doesn't hold people accountable, the worse it becomes. He tries to be too good, and it works against his purpose. Peck comes in with a cold dose of discipline. The lesson is if you don't hold people to a high standard, organizations will gravitate to the lowest common denominator.

十二點正 (TWELVEO'CLOCK HIGH)(1949) 第二十二屆奧斯卡金像獎最佳男主角提名

晴空血戰史Twelve O`Cloch High

Q: Are leaders born or made?

A: Some people are not capable of acting in any leadership position. Identify them on the front end. Those who remain can be taught to be effective. Some fail because being an effective leader is hard and requires you to subordinate your self-interest for the organization.

Q: What does history say about making decisions with imperfect information?

A: You always deal with imperfect information. If you kill the messenger, if you're always on transmit mode rather than receive mode, you'll miss a lot of information that's important. Washington was pretty sure when he crossed the Delaware he was going to be annihilated. But he knew he had to do it. Eisenhower when he made the (D-Day) decision to go on the 6th of June: He had very rudimentary meteorological information. He made the call and wrote out on a slip of paper that the fault of this invasion failing "is mine alone." There are lots of examples in business where people went out on a limb. Lou Gerstner turned IBM around making a completely radical call of going into the services side.

Q: What do great leaders do when things go horribly wrong?

A: The good ones, like Eisenhower, take responsibility. Secondly, if a leader has a chance to rectify a mistake, then react urgently and strongly, and oftentimes do things you normally wouldn't like to do.

Q: If there were a Mount Rushmore for CEOs, whose faces would be on it?

A: Alfred Sloan of General Motors. (Henry) Ford owned the auto industry, but he recognized that the country was becoming more affluent and marketing was becoming more important. Tom Watson Jr. at IBM. He made the courageous decision down the path into computing and modern mainframe computers.

Probably (William) Allen of Boeing. He bet on the swept-wing jet that led his company's aerospace dominance for many years. How could you not put (Wal-Mart's) Sam Walton there? He allowed people of modest incomes to have a standard of living they never thought of.