Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

June 07, 2017 | Tom Ballard

Fireside chat with Governor Haslam, Fred Smith offers some sage advice and a good metaphor

36-86 v2By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Those who stayed until the end of Launch Tennessee’s “36|86 Conference” on Tuesday were treated to a remarkable fireside chat. It featured Memphis’ own Fred Smith, Founder of FedEx, and Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, who joked that he was auditioning as a talk show host when he became unemployed in about 18 months.

One aspect of the conversation that made it so remarkable was the rapport that obviously exists between the two leaders. Unlike many fireside chats, there was a real comfort level to the conversation. But, more important was the content . . . the sage advice that Smith offered. It started with his reference to the concept of “Kaleidoscope Thinking” advanced by Rosabeth Moss Kanter.

Paraphrasing the internationally-known Harvard Professor, Smith reminded attendees of just exactly what a kaleidoscope is and how it works. “Twist the kaleidoscope and you look at things a little differently,” he said.

The simplicity of the kaleidoscope that is a toy for most youngsters was an important metaphor for what makes entrepreneurs really successful and how Smith met every challenge that allowed him and his team to grow FedEx to the 470,000-employee global giant it is today.

Governor Haslam asked Smith to offer his advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. Here’s what he said.

  • Be objective about what you are doing and make sure you have a competitive advantage that is sustainable.
  • Get good people; you can’t do it all by yourself, and you have to treat your people fairly.
  • Remember that business is arithmetic unlike your faith and family.
  • Be prepared to work hard, but always be mindful of your family and your health.
  • Have a sense of humor.