Getting a good grip on FedEx is a challenge. First, there is the size: How do you gauge a mammoth venture whose presence propelled Memphis, Tennessee — the second city in the 17th most populous state of the United States — into the unlikely home of the world’s busiest cargo airport for eight of the past 10 years? Memphis, named after, of all places, ancient Egypt’s capital, anchors FedEx’s worldwide business of express shipping and freight operations, a logistics activity that is as mundane as it is important and gets spiced up by occasional but highly public relations-effective extracurricular activities, such as airlifting panda bears.
With global turnover approaching $40 billion in its fiscal year that ended in May 2011, FedEx as an economic power even exceeds the nominal gross domestic product of the smallest Gulf Cooperation Council economy, Bahrain.
But neither size nor economic muscle explain why FedEx Express is top dog and king of the hill among the Top 10 Companies to Work for on the UAE 2012 list. In highlighting things that FedEx does right, the Great Place to Work Institute (GPTWI) named two aspects in the company’s culture, the corporate philosophy and order of priorities, known as people-service-profit (P-S-P), and the Purple Promise, an employee recognition scheme.
Listening to David Ross, the senior vice president of FedEx Express for the Middle East, Indian Subcontinent and Africa, it seems that GPTWI has hit the nail on the head as far as identifying what FedEx managers think sets their company apart.
“As a company with the people-service-profit philosophy we have a head start in GPTW, given that P-S-P was put in place by the chairman of FedEx when founding the company,” Ross tells Executive.
Ross explains the Purple Promise by recounting the most recent story behind the awarding of one to a FedEx courier with FedEx Express UAE for “going above and beyond”. Last December, a courier, Ross says, found an expat lady’s purse with “considerable cash and all her cards and permits” on the sidewalk during his delivery work; he took the initiative to contact the lady and return her lost property.
In his explanations of what makes FedEx perform as an extraordinary workplace, Ross emphasizes the conversion of policies and practices into a bona fide culture, meaning doing the right things not merely because of corporate policy but doing them “as part of our normal daily behavior. We see it as something that becomes behavioral through great leadership.”
This culture entails being a people-first company as part of its nature and has grown from its American origins into a global phenomena, he enthuses.
But the spread into a corporation with a headcount of some 290,000 is impossible without some snags and wrinkles. This truth was specifically impressed upon the masses of YouTube connoisseurs, also in December, when a video attracted eight- plus million views of a courier who “delivered” a computer monitor by throwing it over a fence and breaking it as the astounded recipient watched via his security camera.
So what did FedEx do? According to Ross: “It was a bad thing to have happened but we stood up publicly and acknowledged that; and we are using this video internally as a tool for our growth into the future.”
Besides recognition schemes for positive reinforcement of its culture ing mistakes to learn and grow as an organization, development is fostered at FedEx in other notable ways, among them a tuition reimbursement program. Ross says the company allocates an amount of money for every employee, allowing its people educational pursuits that may help them grow and achieve and move forward in the organization.
How far can a new courier go? Ross, who noted earlier in his conversation with Executive that several C-level executives in FedEx Express had started at the bottom, answers quick as a flash, “He can become the CEO. All managers up to the CEO will tell you that anybody who puts their mind to it, works hard and gathers the right skill set, can grow through the organization.”