Leveraging the MBA

By Fay Hansen

Jun. 27, 2008

FedEx Corp., with $37 billion in annual reve­nue, 290,000 employees and contractors, and operations in 222 countries, ranks seventh on Fortune’s list of America’s Most Admired Companies and sixth on the World’s Most Admired Companies list. For 10 consecutive years, it has also appeared on Fortune’s list of the Best Companies to Work For.

    Judith Edge, corporate vice president for human resources, signed on with FedEx in 1983, when she was 22 years old, and worked up the HR ladder to become corporate vice president for global human resources in 2007. Edge earned her master’s degree in business administration from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland.

    “The MBA has been absolutely critical to my success,” Edge says. “HR has come a long way, but the MBA brings credibility to my role as a business leader. I can sit with finance and build out a business case.”

    “You need an MBA to speak the same language as the other business functions,” she says. “For example, in the marketing courses, you learn about the models that marketing uses. That allows you to more fully understand your own marketing people, and some of the models can be incorporated into compensation plans.”

    Edge reports to Frederick Smith, one of the country’s most respected CEOs. “He gives you total autonomy and has complete faith in you to execute your assignment for the organization,” she says. Edge also sits on the nine-member strategic management committee, which includes Smith and his direct reports: the CEOs from the four operating companies, the CFO, the chief information officer, the head of marketing and communications, and Edge. “I have a very tight relationship with finance and legal,” she reports. “You can’t operate in a silo in a company that is as complex as FedEx.”

“HR has come a long way, but the MBA brings credibility to my role as a business leader. I can sit with finance and build out a business case.”
 —Judith Edge, corporate vice president for human resources, FedEx

    To keep HR focused on business objectives, Edge shadows Smith. “Fred sets the MBOs [management by objectives] every year and then I set mine,” she says. Edge also oversees different task forces on specific issues within HR to pull in the operating companies and make sure that HR objectives are consistent across the organization. “We leverage best practices from corporate and all the operating companies,” she notes.

    Edge manages leadership development for the top 400 positions in the company and ensures the company’s color-coded leadership pipelines are full. The FedEx “purple” pipeline, for example, feeds high-performing managers into director positions after a yearlong training program. “The objective is to help them think broadly and strategically,” Edge says.

    An outside firm assesses the managers’ leadership skills before and after the program, and Edge tracks how many are promoted within 18 months of program completion. More than 90 percent of the company’s managerial and executive positions are filled from within.

    Edge also oversees the “Excel” program for high-performing vice presidents, which reinforces cross-functionality throughout the organization. In the six-month program, vice presidents learn about the differences in the com- pany’s various operating units and complete an international assignment in China to broaden their understanding of differences in political environments.

    The FedEx HR function includes a team at each of the four operating companies plus a team at its corporate headquarters to develop strategy and thread it through the operating companies. In the FedEx operating companies, the HR leaders have law degrees or MBAs. In looking at a successor for her own position, Edge notes, “I would see an MBA as a big plus.”

Workforce Management, June 23, 2008, p. 32Subscribe Now!

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