FedEx’s Fred Smith on Why We Need Manufacturing


The Weekend Interview –

Good interview with the CEO of FedEx, Fred Smith. If you click on the link above, be warned there's some political discussion (which I know many of you might be sick of at this point). Our election cycle is NOT a Lean process, cycle time-wise, and maybe that's good… but boy, this election has been going on forever. But I digress.

Smith talks about an issue near and dear to me – attracting top students into operations and manufacturing leadership roles. That's why the grad school program I attended, MIT's Leaders for Manufacturing Program, was created 20 years ago. There were some attractive financial incentives to do that program instead of the regular MBA (but that didn't matter for me, I always wanted to remain a manufacturing/operations guy… but now, I'm working in healthcare operations, go figure).

They wrote about Smith:

“His [Smith's] theory is that the [U.S.] tax bias against capital explains why so much top U.S. talent got whisked off to become investment bankers. ‘Not too many young people coming out of school are studying to be production managers at General Motors.' He says that most of FedEx's first line managers come not from the top flight universities, but out of community colleges and the military. ‘The top talent has wanted to go to Wall Street.'

He has come to hold the get-rich-quick Wall Street financiers in more than a little disdain. He views the heroes of the U.S. economy as the companies that actually produce real goods and services. He sees the Wall Street collapse as an inevitable byproduct of investment bankers building multitrillion dollar debt pyramid structures.”

Actual real goods and services. Exactly. I'm sure we'd all include healthcare into that category, of real services. Maybe it's because I wasn't a top enough talent, or I guess the lure of Wall Street would have been irresistible? Is it really “tax structures” that draw people ot Wall Street or the salary and compensation structures? Being a production manager at GM (or Toyota) isn't a glamour job to the general public (and I mean no offense, trust me, to those of you who are in those jobs). Wall Street is glamorous and pays well. Maybe that will change?

I assume most of my readers are manufacturing or healthcare operations folks. Did any of you get tempted by Wall Street? How has your view changed now that we're in a self-made “crisis”, thanks to Wall Street?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I have personally never been attracted by the glamor of Wall Street because it has always seemed to me that the glamorous side also comes with a lot of stress. Yes, you might be able to make a lot of money, but if you burn out before 40, is it really worth it?

  2. So far the Wall Street wasn’t accorded to gain the trust of American people. They had less credibility after they used the taxpayer dollars for private jets and bonuses for executives of failed companies which had been decried by our President Obama. Hence, most executives wouldn’t have to worry about job cuts or having to get payday loans anyway, because many large firms are considering raising salaries for executive level positions. They have claimed, in case of failure, they will demand repayment of salary. Gee, I would love to have job where if I messed up, instead of getting fired, I got a bonus, just like on Wall Street.


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