Most entrepreneurs, when starting out, have dreams of building their individual empire. Whether that’s a long-standing small-town mom & pop business or a billion dollar national or even global conglomerate, everyone’s view of individual success is his or her own. However, empires do not come easy and having good guidance and a strong business plan at the outset is the first, biggest step towards achieving those individual goals.
The same held and continues to hold true for Fred Smith, CEO of FedEx. The history-loving Smith recently appeared at the National Council on Undergraduate Research annual conference at the University of Memphis where he recalled the lessons he’s learned since developing the FedEx business plan while at Yale University and how FedEx became the empire it is today.
For the entrepreneurs gathered at the conference, Smith had five tips for success.
1: Look for a competitive advantage
Be very objective about what you are trying to accomplish and look for a competitive advantage. It’s a method renowned investor Warren Buffett has often espoused, calling it “a moat” around his castle.
“Be damn sure of that advantage and that you can sustain it,” Smith said.
He noted that in the early stages of building FedEx, even when money was slim, he commissioned three market studies to test the need for expedited shipping in the computer age.
2: Get good people
“Businesses need good people,” Smith said. “That’s really the secret to FedEx.”
“The virtues of good leadership trickle down, “ said Smith, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps and learned leadership skills there. “The Marine Corps teaches you how you motivate people, even to the point of giving their lives in battle.”
3: Remember, ‘Business is just about arithmetic.’
While Smith said one of his favorite symbols of innovation is that of a kaleidoscope turned until the right image comes into focus, the frank-talking innovator said a lot of entrepreneurs miss the trees for the forest. “Business is just about arithmetic,” he said. “It’s just math.”
Although there are hundreds of business buzzwords and strategies, Smith said business is about connecting a hungry market with a product or service it desires, and continually adapting to changing tastes. Doing so, he said, will lead to continued success.
4: Be prepared to work hard, but keep values in place
Smith said one the most important things entrepreneurs should keep in mind is how much work the endeavor will require. But he said that someone consumed with making money will become unhappy. “It’s nothing like the important parts of life, like faith and family,” he said.
5: Have a sense of humor
Smith said his last tip is maybe the most important and helps keep everything else in perspective. “Have a sense of humor,” he said.
Throughout his appearance, Smith cited historical events in his life that helped him make decisions. “If you want to play at a high level, you have to absorb the mistakes that have been made before you,” he said.