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Advice and Information for Finance Professionals

Resilient Together: Leading FedEx Services Through COVID-19

Guest Author

By Chris Wood, Vice President, Business Transformation, FedEx Services 

Organizational leadership is something that has fascinated me my entire life—learning how great leaders have inspired their teams in both good times and bad. As an intelligence officer in the United States Navy, I studied the lessons of great historical leaders such as Admirals Chester Nimitz, William Halsey, and Raymond Spruance as well as many other military and naval leaders at all levels. I have also read extensively about civilian leaders and am currently reading Dr. Condoleezza Rice’s account of her journey in leadership. What I have learned has served me well during my twenty-two-year career in corporate finance at FedEx, the world’s largest express transportation company.  

Today, as vice president of business transformation at FedEx Services, I lead a team that is responsible for leveraging technology in order to continuously innovate, improve, and optimize business processes for a wide variety of organizations at FedEx and to ultimately support the FedEx global brand.

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged every organization in many ways. Never has leadership been more important—to sustain operations, maintain employee morale, and reassure customers. As expected, FedEx was immediately deemed an essential business at the start of the lockdown. I’m proud of the way the entire FedEx enterprise of over 500,000 team members has risen to the task.

A deep commitment to corporate citizenship and excellence that starts at the very top

One of the leaders whom I most admire is our founder and CEO, Fred Smith. Under his guidance, FedEx has ranked in the top 20 World’s Most Admired Companies for the past two decades. That’s not by chance. FedEx has an extremely robust commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR) across three primary focus areas: people, the environment, and the economy. FedEx Cares is a global community engagement program with the primary goal of helping make the world a better place through “in-kind” (free) shipping of essential supplies, volunteering our time and expertise, and charitable giving. And, in times of need, our FedEx Cares team supports nonprofits with mission-critical demands.

Since the beginning of 2020, working with agencies such as Direct ReliefInternational Medical Corps, and the American Red Cross, we’ve accomplished over 7,300 humanitarian aid shipments globally, weighing more than 200 tons with a value of over $4.3 million dollars.

To help keep our team members safe, we’ve purchased more than 55 million pairs of gloves, 57 million masks, five million bottles of sanitizer, and 7,000 thermometers for our workforce of over 475,000 people. It’s part of FedEx’s corporate philosophy of People-Service-Profit. 

Delivering innovation to the enterprise  

Prior to the pandemic, FedEx was well into an extensive transformation to modernize many areas of the business, to strengthen our already highly-resilient delivery operations and maintain our “Purple Promise” to customers, which is to "make every FedEx experience outstanding." From a fleet standpoint, the focus has been to replace older airplanes with newer ones that have greater lift capacity, more fuel efficiency, and longer range. So far in 2020, those and other fuel-saving efforts have resulted in avoiding more than 3.1 million tons of CO2e emissions. 

From a transformation perspective, we want internal customers to experience the same spirit of innovation that our external customers do from our improvements. To do that, we’ve been implementing an extensive footprint of Oracle Cloud applications across FedEx Services for the last few years. We work with various organizations from the business and IT on projects across the enterprise including enterprise resource planning (ERP), enterprise performance management (EPM), supply chain management (SCM), analytics, and Oracle Digital Assistants, as well as Oracle’s Gen 2 Cloud Infrastructure and Autonomous Database. Our strategy is agile, built around continuous, incremental improvements versus multi-year plans.   

We built the business case to move to the Oracle Cloud for financials as a result of our 2016 acquisition of TNT, our biggest acquisition to date.  We made the decision to transition their financial infrastructure directly to cloud, rather than bringing them up on our legacy systems for an interim period. With TNT as the catalyst, we’ve now deployed our Oracle Cloud ERP platform in 25 countries and will be at almost 50 by the end of 2020.

When the pandemic hit, we remained committed to our cloud implementation schedule to improve our global financial visibility and improve our ability to deal with any future crisis. To date, FedEx is using more than 40 Oracle Cloud applications. Thousands of employees now also use Oracle Cloud Analytics for data-driven decision making. We are on track to have 30,000 users by year-end.

Other FedEx teams have begun their journeys with Oracle Cloud Global Trade Management, Warehouse Management, Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) and Inventory Management as well as Oracle Cloud SCM applications, providing FedEx with greater visibility into complex global logistics, as well as a platform for agility to adapt our networks as needed.

Focus on the basics during a crisis

When the true impact of the pandemic became apparent, the first thing I did was reassure my teams that we would weather the storm together. As the head of our business transformation efforts, I’m part of the leadership team that created a global organization we call the Digital Innovation Center of Excellence (DICE). The DICE team wanted to take bold steps to make breakthrough efficiency gains in its back-office operations—and that meant bringing in the most innovative technologies and tactics. Moving to the cloud on a large scale was foundational to these efforts.

Normally, we have a very hands-on approach to implementations. We’ll deploy dozens of people to the location for weeks at a time to help local people through testing and training during the initial transition and the first fiscal month. Obviously, that wasn’t going to happen under current conditions. We quickly adapted to a virtual deployment and support model which proved successful under the circumstances.

We quickly learned that our approach to virtual implementations was not only viable, but in some ways, also preferable. I kept reminding the teams to stay focused and to understand that the goals haven’t changed, the timelines were holding, and that we remained committed. We sustained our cadence of clear and repetitive communication with online sessions.  

Building resilience together 

There is no true upside to the humanitarian and economic impact of the pandemic. But we’ve learned valuable lessons that we will apply as we move forward. One of my guiding principles is to be very purposeful with innovation. By institutionalizing innovation long before the pandemic and making it an ongoing part of the business, we’ve had a strong foundation to fall back on. 

We’ve been together a long time and my team is very adept at leading change. They’re capable, skilled, and experienced. I have complete faith in them, and they know that if they do their best, I will support them. I find that teams respond very well to that philosophy, especially during a crisis.  

By quickly focusing on how we could deploy the applications and train people remotely, we experienced very few issues and got everything up and running properly. In addition, since first going live on Cloud ERP we’ve received eight new quarterly updates from Oracle, all of which we’ve consumed with no disruption to the business. Modernizing our back office in the cloud is giving FedEx Services the innovations we need to outpace change, and the financial resiliency we require to help withstand any future shocks that threaten to prevent us from our mission of doing the extraordinary every day in service to our customers.   

Our experiences during these trying times has made me appreciate the FedEx guiding principles and my team even more, as well as the relationship we have with Oracle.

Hear more from FedEx's Chris Wood in this webcast with Fortune Magazine.

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