Even FedEx Had to Start Somewhere

I attended a University of Maryland basketball game last week but barely saw a moment of it.

I missed the game because I was busy talking to entrepreneurs and business people from various stages in their careers. One unassuming man in his 50s, dressed casually in a red turtleneck, sweater and jeans was particularly engaging. He seemed to be a font of knowledge for aspiring entrepreneurs.

We were in a box used by the university's business school and the staff there had invited me to attend a gathering of small business owners and others affiliated with the school's Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship.

"So how do you fit into this mix?," I asked.

He replied that it was a little hard to explain but he had given a speech to the school earlier that day.

And what was the speech about?

"You know, how I was a founder of FedEx," he told me.

Roger Frock was with the overnight-delivery company when it began and served as its chief operating officer and president from 1971 to 1981.

He regaled some great stories during the game.

Frock said there were about 10 times that the Memphis, Tenn., company might not have made it as a small business if things just hadn't turned out. He also outlined some of these in his book, "Changing How the World Does Business."

In one particularly memorable story, he told of how the then 15-person company didn't have enough money to pay for the fuel that kept the planes flying during the week. It owed $23,000 for the gas, and only had about $6,000 in the bank. Just when things were looking the bleakest, founder Fred Smith struck it rich in Las Vegas and won about $27,000. He paid for the fuel and the company continued to grow into the big business it is today.

While not all small businesses want to get this big, Frock reiterated that everyone has to start somewhere.

Small Business Readers - Do you know of any companies that might have failed if it hadn't been for sheer luck? Please post a comment below or e-mail me at smallbusiness@washingtonpost.com.

By Sharon McLoone |  December 11, 2007; 10:15 AM ET Networking
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