Fred was crippled with bone disease as a child but regained his health by age 10, and became an excellent football player. He was also interested in flying and got his pilot’s license by the age of 15. After graduating from high school at Memphis University School, he was accepted into Yale University.
In 1962, while attending Yale University, he wrote a paper for an economics class, outlining overnight delivery service in a computer information age; the paper became the idea of FedEx. Fred became a member and eventually the president of the Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity and the Skull and Bones secret society, where he becomes friends with George W. Bush and John Kerry, who also shared an enthusiasm for aviation with Fred.
Upon graduation, Fred received a bachelor’s degree in economics and was commissioned in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving for three years (from 1966 to 1969) as a platoon leader and a forward air controller (FAC), flying in the back seat of the OV-10.
He served two tours of duty in Vietnam, flying with pilots on over 200 combat missions. He was honorably discharged in 1969 with the rank of Captain, having received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and two Purple Hearts. While in the military, Fred carefully observed the military’s logistics system and made note of the procurement and delivery procedures, allowing him to fine-tune his dream for an overnight delivery service. He credits the Marine Corps with teaching him how to treat others and how to be a leader; two valuable lessons FedEx was built on.
On June 18, 1971, Fred founded Federal Express with his $4 million inheritance, and raised $91 million in venture capital. In 1973, the company began offering service to 25 cities, and it began with small packages and documents and a fleet of 14 Falcon 20 (DA-20) jets. Fred’s focus was on developing an integrated air-ground system, which had never been done before. He developed FedEx on the business idea of a shipment version of a bank clearing house where one bank clearing house was located in the middle of the representative banks and their representatives would be sent to the central location to exchange materials.
In the early days of FedEx, Fred had to go to great lengths to keep the company afloat. In one instance, after a crucial business loan was denied, he took the company’s last $5,000 to Las Vegas and won $27,000 gambling on blackjack to cover the company’s $24,000 fuel bill: keeping them afloat for one more week.
Fred has served on the boards of several large public companies, as well as the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Mayo Foundation boards. He was formerly chairman of the Board of Governors for the International Air Transport Association and the U.S. Air Transport Association. He served as chairman of the U.S.-China Business Council and is the current chairman of the French-American Business Council. He is a member of the Aviation Hall of Fame. Fred was named as Chief Executive magazine‘s 2004 “CEO of the Year”; the 2006 Person of the Year by the French-American Chamber of Commerce and was appointed as co-chairman with Senator Bob Dole of the U.S. World War II Memorial Project.
In addition to FedEx, Fred is also a co-owner of the Washington Redskins NFL Team and owns or co-owns several entertainment companies, including Dream Image Productions and Alcon Films (producers of the Warner Bros. film Insomnia starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams).
In March 2014, Fortune Magazine ranked him 26th among the list of “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders”.