In the late afternoon on June 7th in Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Tennessee’s Governor, Bill Haslam, and FedEx founder and CEO, Fred Smith, sat together on a stage in front of a large crowd of entrepreneurs and innovators at the 36|86 Entrepreneurship and Technology Conference. Their “fireside” chat was the final presentation of the day, and one of the most anticipated of the conference.

Some of my favorite quotes from the chat came from Fred Smith, who has a knack for being candid and humble.

When asked if there were any specific mistakes or regrets that he had made over the years, Mr. Smith’s response was, “You know Governor, I’ve made so many damn mistakes.”

On the topic of innovation, Smith said, “If you study history, one of the things you realize is always constant, is the necessity of change.”

In a slightly political moment, on the topic of global trade, Smith said, “When goods cross borders, armies rarely do.”

One topic that Mr. Smith kept coming back to that really peaked my interest was the “Kaleidoscope Point of View.” This comes from the realization that everything is comparable to a kaleidoscope. Just as when two people look through a kaleidoscope and see two different scenes, two people looking at a situation will always have two different viewpoints. It also means that with every adjustment, you will have a different opinion and reaction to every situation.

 

Towards the end of the chat, Governor Haslam asked Smith if he had any tips for being successful when someone is trying to start a business. Smith responded with these five things:

  • Be very objective about what you’re trying to do. Have a business concept that has the competitive advantage.
  • You have to get good people. It takes a team to do anything. Treat those people fairly.
  • Remember that business is just about arithmetic. It’s just math. If you’re going to be all consumed, you’re in for a hard road.
  • You better be prepared to work hard. Work hard but make sure to take the time off that’s needed to work on personal stuff.
  • Have a sense of humor, and don’t take yourself too seriously.

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