Coach John Wooden and Frederick Smith

April 07, 2010

By Paul Feinberg

BEVERLY HILLS -- In a spectacular gala that managed to do justice to both the recipient and the man for whom the honor is named, UCLA Anderson School of Management presented the John Wooden Global Leadership Award to Frederick W. Smith, chairman and chief executive officer of FedEx Corporation. Smith is the third annual honoree of the John Wooden Global Leadership Award, joining Howard Schultz (Starbucks' chairman, president and CEO) and Kenneth Chenault (American Express' chairman and CEO) as recipients of the leadership award.

The John Wooden Global Leadership Award "honors a corporate leader who personifies the extraordinary standard of achievement, leadership and character" associated with Coach Wooden. The award recipient is said to serve as "a contemporary role model exemplifying business leadership skills, and a willingness to share this knowledge with the community, nation and the world" all while maintaining the standards associated with "Coach."

Smith founded FedEx (then known as Federal Express Corporation) in 1971 and not only created the world's largest shipping company, he essentially created an industry where once there was none. Today, he is responsible for providing strategic direction for all of FedEx' operating companies, including FedEx Services, FedEx Express, FedEx Ground and FedEx Freight. The company serves more than 220 countries and employs nearly 300,000 "team members," handling nearly 8 million shipments worldwide each business day. Smith was named the world's best CEO by Barron's and "CEO of the Year" by Chief Executive magazine. In addition to his FedEx endeavors, Smith owns a film production company and is part of the Washington Redskins ownership group.

The evening began with UCLA Anderson Dean Judy Olian proclaiming that "Fred Smith leads in the tradition of John Wooden, he puts the Pyramid of Success into practice." Olian's opening remarks extolled the virtues of Coach Wooden, asserting that one of Anderson's goals is to put his principals for leadership into action as the school prepares its students "for the daunting responsibility for leadership in a global economy." The dean also recognized Archana Rajan (Executive MBA, Class of 2011) and Joanna Schochet (MBA, Class of 2011), both of whom received the 2010 John Wooden Global Leadership Award Fellowships. Rajan and Schochet each receive $25,000 in financial support as they work toward the completion of their respective MBA degrees.

The event proceeded in two parts, both moderated by Emmy-award winning journalist Deborah Roberts of ABC News. After an introduction by former UCLA basketball player Mike Warren, who described himself as the "luckiest guy in the world" for having played for the greatest coach in college basketball history and beside the greatest player in basketball history (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Roberts was joined on stage by Abdul-Jabbar, Keith Erickson and Jamaal Wilkes and Coach Wooden. (All three were All American players under Wooden). The love the trio of players felt for Wooden was palpable, noting that the man they knew as their coach cared much more about them as people than he did as players.

Abdul-Jabber told a story that in many ways defined Coach Wooden's character. When Wooden was coaching at Indiana State prior to coming to UCLA, he had a top team that was invited to a tournament in Kansas City, but his team had an African-American player and that player would not be allowed to participate. As a result, Coach Wooden declined the invitation. What was significant, Abdul-Jabbar noted, was that Wooden didn't feel he had done anything special, he just did what he felt was right.

"He was a tough taskmaster," Wilkes said, "but we were honored just to be invited to play in his program." Said Abdul-Jabbar, "We could always talk about things that had nothing to do with basketball."

After the discourse with Wooden and his players, Roberts was joined on stage by Fred Smith. Asked about the transition from founder to successful CEO, Smith employed a sports metaphor. "It's like making the transition from athlete to coach," Smith said. "The secret is to be disciplined, study and manage change. Without self-discipline, you won't be able to sustain (success)."

"The principals of effective leadership have been known to us since the Greeks," Smith said. "It's no mystery. It's just hard to do. It's all there (in Coach Wooden's) Pyramid of Success. That's what it takes. But most (people) don't have the discipline."

After his discourse with Roberts, Smith was formally presented with the John Wooden Global Leadership Award by Dean Olian. In a humorous moment, the statue was delivered to the stage by a FedEx deliveryman. Of the honor, Smith said, "It's a great honor to be associated with anything Coach Wooden does. I accept on behalf of the 300,000 people of FedEx."

"If you ever have any doubt about the future of the USA," Smith concluded. "Spend some time with the management students at UCLA. It will give you confidence."

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