photography by Larry Kuzniewski
Now the chief operating officer of FedEx Express, Michael Ducker is confident “the runway is very long” for the company’s next 40 years.
In May 1975, when school had just dismissed for the summer, Michael Ducker was looking for a part-time job in Memphis. A friend told him he’d “just started working for this little company called Federal Express,” and that he, too, should apply. Ducker went in for an interview the next day, took a physical, and was asked to start that same night. The rest is a slice of history. That little company has since grown into a global enterprise, operating in more than 220 countries around the world. And that young man who began his tenure in the hub as a cargo handler loading and unloading Falcon aircraft for just under $3 an hour has gone on to become the chief operating officer and international president of FedEx Express.
Ducker recalls the early days: “We were a young, energetic group. We were attacking a whole new business model, and at the same time, an antiquated set of regulatory constraints. But everybody was energized and passionate about the vision that was laid out. And we were innovators, unafraid to try something new.” Ducker still thrives on that same passion and drive, citing the job’s complexities and challenges as energizing forces. He considers much of what he and FedEx does daily to be a form of crisis management and finds that handling those crises is rewarding. “A lot of what we ship every day is a crisis for someone,” Ducker says. Whether it be a medical device, a ticket to an event, or even emergency relief shipping to natural disasters, “managing those kinds of emergencies and crises is, in a way, how we were born,” he says.
“At the end of the day, what we really do is change the way the world works. We change the commerce.”
Throughout his tenure at FedEx, Ducker has held many positions, from frontline hub jobs, to managerial stints in Atlanta and Houston, to posts running operations in Italy, Singapore, and Hong Kong. In some regards, he has grown along with the company, not only watching it sprout from a small-time operation to a globally recognized brand but also having a hand in that growth. From direct labor with packages and transforming hub efficiency and productivity as part of an engineering team during the formative years; to today, managing the global customer-facing employee workforce and FedEx Trade Networks, resolving regulatory issues, and assisting with global government relations. “It has been a whale of a ride, and the FedEx story has truly been one of the most amazing stories in American business,” he says.
The company has built an iconic global brand and developed in ways that few could have envisioned, and Ducker considers himself blessed to be a part of the story. “At the end of the day, what we really do is change the way the world works. We change the commerce, “ he says. “And the impact that we have enabling global trade, contributing to globalization, and providing access for people all around the world to participate in the global economy, that’s exciting.”
Looking to the future, Ducker believes there’s still great potential for further growth, especially internationally. “In Memphis, we see FedEx everywhere every day, but if you look around the rest of the world, we don’t have the same kind of penetration. So the opportunity will be the world’s mega cities, offering a bigger portfolio of products and services to those customers all over the world,” he says.
“I think you can look out in 40 years and see that the runway is very long, and there are a lot of opportunities for the people who will be running this company.” Over the years and through his travels, Ducker has seen a shift in Memphis’ international reputation, one that speaks to the already sprawling reach of this Memphis-based company. “It used to be that when people around the world thought about Memphis, they thought about blues, barbecue, and Elvis. Now, they think about blues, barbecue, Elvis, and FedEx; and if you ask us, not necessarily in that order.”