[Ads-l] Sources for FedEx Anecdote

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sun May 15 16:20:13 EDT 2016


A researcher named S. M. Colowick responded to Fred on a different
mailing list by giving a great snippet match in Esquire.

Here are some further details I acquired about the "Esquire" article.
The grade on the Yale paper is mentioned twice. It appeared in a
caption, and it appeared in the main body of the article which
apparently stated: "Nevertheless, he gave Smith a passing grade, but a
mediocre one — a C."

Periodical: Esquire
Date: August 15, 1978
Article: Full Disclosure: Overnight Highflier
Subtitle: After a Rocky Takeoff, Feisty Federal Express Looks Set For
The Short Haul
Author: Dan Dorfman

Comment: The metadata above was obtained from a search in the online
Esquire database which S. M. Colowick pointed out. I do not have full
access to the database; hence I cannot see the page scans. The text
below was extracted from Google Books and it may contain errors. All
this information should be verified.

[Begin extracted text of caption]
Cocky Fred Smith: His Yale professor gave him a C, but Wall Street
rates him A . . . If he moves into the booming passenger business, his
grade could go to A+.
[End extracted text of caption]

[Begin extracted text]
About twelve years ago — when he was twenty-one — Smith turned in his
college thesis at Yale. Its premise: There's no way airlines can
compete effectively with either truckers or railroads in the
transportation of bulk freight. However, after exhaustive research,
Smith saw glowing potential — a booming business, in fact — in an
airline service that could deliver overnight small (under 70 pounds),
high-priority packages. These products would run the gamut from
integral parts of computers and diagnostic equipment to human organs
and legal briefs. His skeptical professor didn't think such a business
had a ghost of a chance, considering the airline industry's intense
competition and heavy regulation. Nevertheless, he gave Smith a
passing grade, but a mediocre one — a C.

I had drinks with Smith at his new $275,000 twelve-room home in the
heart of Memphis, and he laughed about that college incident. Said
Smith: "The professor didn't understand how the goddamn world worked .
. . that America was spreading out technologically . . . that the
efficacy of our society is to be smarter, not to work harder.
[End extracted text]

Garson


On Sun, May 15, 2016 at 3:10 PM, S M Colowick <januarye at gmail.com> wrote:
> On Sun, May 15, 2016 at 8:13 AM, Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at yale.edu> wrote:
>> There is a famous anecdote about FedEx founder Frederick W. Smith.  Wikipedia tells it as follows:
>>
>> "In 1962, Smith entered Yale University. While attending Yale, he wrote a paper for an economics class, outlining overnight delivery service in a computer information age. Folklore suggests that he received a C for this paper, although in a later interview he claims that he told a reporter, 'I don't know what grade, probably made my usual C,' while other tales suggest that his professor told him that, in order for him to get a C, the idea had to be feasible. The paper became the idea of FedEx ..."
>>
>> I am interested in tracing the earliest version of this anecdote, and would welcome any information about primary or secondary sources for early versions.
>
> A snippet on Google Books shows a mention of this incident in Esquire
> in 1978 (Overnight Highflier,
> http://archive.esquire.com/issue/19780815): "Cocky Fred Smith: His
> Yale professor gave him a C. hut Wall Street rates him A ."
>
> Another snippet shows a possibly earlier mention in Air World
> magazine, 1973 (page 193): "Frederick Smith's impossible dream became
> the nationwide, multi-million dollar Federal Express overnight package
> delivery ... in the early 1960s, and in 1965 made it the theme of a
> thesis he wrote for a Yale University undergraduate course." Since
> this is all I can see, I don't know if it mentions the C grade.
> _______________________________________________
> Project Wombat - Project-wombat
> list at project-wombat.org
> http://www.project-wombat.org/

On Sun, May 15, 2016 at 2:49 PM, ADSGarson O'Toole
<adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com> wrote:
> An instance of the anecdote appeared in "The Washington Post" in
> February 1981. The article contained quotations from Fred Smith, and
> it seemed that the reporter spoke to Smith for the story. But the
> comment about the grade assigned to the paper was not presented as a
> direct quotation. The reporter wrote: "He got a C on the paper."
>
> Please double-check for typos, OCR errors, and other mistakes.
>
> Date: February 22, 1981
> Newspaper: The Washington Post
> Newspaper Location: Washington, D.C.
> Section: The Washington Post Magazine
> Article: Overnight Success
> Author: Bill Snead
> Start Page SM10, Quote Page SM13
> Database: ProQuest
>
> [Begin excerpt]
> Inspiration struck when Smith attended Yale in the mid-1960s.
> Desperate to find a subject for a much-procrastinated economics paper,
> Smith stayed up late one night and stumbled upon his legendary idea:
> Buy a fleet of jets, fly only in the middle of the night, shuffle
> packages at one centrally located hub, pick up and deliver to
> customers' doorsteps and charge oodles of money. He got a C on the
> paper.
>
> "I had the advantage of not knowing anything," Smith recalls. His
> model was the phone company, which uses a central switching exchange
> to transfer calls from distant points. As an ignorant undergraduate,
> Smith remembers thinking: "With the hub, the aggregate of all
> transmission would be enormously efficient."
> [End excerpt]
>
> Another instance of the anecdote appeared in The Atlanta Constitution
> in June 1981. The reporter described the response of the teacher to
> Smith's paper as follows: "Such a business could never work, the
> instructor told his student, and gave the disappointed Smith a barely
> passing grade."
>
> Date: June 14, 1981
> Newspaper: The Atlanta Constitution
> Newspaper Location: Atlanta, Georgia
> Section: Atlanta Weekly
> Article: Fly-By-Night Success
> Subtitle: When it was founded Federal Express was seen by some as an
> idea that absolutely positively would not work. Less than a decade
> later, it is the king of the airfreight business
> Author: Mitchell J. Shields
> Start Page K20, Quote Page K21
> Database: ProQuest
>
> [Begin excerpt]
> The catalyst for that idea had been an economics class he had attended
> while an undergraduate at Yale. Pressed to find a topic for a
> long-delayed paper, he latched onto the subject of airfreight. "I had
> to write about something it sounded like I knew about," he says now.
> "I knew how to fly, so I wrote my paper on air cargo. And I decided
> that everything people thought about it was wrong. Air cargo wasn't
> going to compete with trains. It wasn't going to compete with trucks.
> There was a whole brand-new market out there that nobody had even
> considered."
> . . .
>
> Smith turned in his term paper and waited for his professor's'
> response. It wasn't favorable. Such a business could never work, the
> instructor told his student, and gave the disappointed Smith a barely
> passing grade.
>
> The professor didn't understand how the world worked, Smith said
> later. "He didn't realize that America was spreading out
> technologically. This meant the creation of a host of new
> productivity-improving equipment with innumerable complex parts.
> [End excerpt]
>
> In March 1982 an article in The Christian Science Monitor stated: 'The
> paper received a "C"'.
>
> Date: March 24, 1982
> Newspaper: The Christian Science Monitor
> Newspaper Location: Boston, Massachusetts
> Article: A lot of people besides Uncle Sam are getting into the mail business
> Author: Deborah Churchman
> Quote Page 19, Column 2
> Database: ProQuest
>
> [Begin excerpt]
> But it was a modern need for overnight service that made Fred Smith,
> founder of Federal Express, a rich man. At Yale University he wrote a
> paper on what looked to all like a wacky idea - an overnight delivery
> service using airplanes, which funneled all the mail through a sorting
> center in his hometown, Memphis, Tenn.
>
> The paper received a "C," but the business it outlined, after a shaky
> start in 1973, pioneered the rapidly growing field of overnight
> delivery. As a spokesman for Federal put it, "With the new technology,
> businesses simply can't afford to wait for more than a day for
> replacement parts or contracts. We sell time."
> [End excerpt]
>
> Garson
>
> On Sun, May 15, 2016 at 11:14 AM, Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at yale.edu> wrote:
>> There is a famous anecdote about FedEx founder Frederick W. Smith.  Wikipedia tells it as follows:
>>
>> "In 1962, Smith entered Yale University. While attending Yale, he wrote a paper for an economics class, outlining overnight delivery service in a computer information age. Folklore suggests that he received a C for this paper, although in a later interview he claims that he told a reporter, 'I don't know what grade, probably made my usual C,' while other tales suggest that his professor told him that, in order for him to get a C, the idea had to be feasible. The paper became the idea of FedEx ..."
>>
>> I am interested in tracing the earliest version of this anecdote, and would welcome any information about primary or secondary sources for early versions.
>>
>> Fred Shapiro
>>
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

------------------------------------------------------------
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org


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