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magazine home > archives > summer 2001 > features

The towering airplanes, truckloads of computer software and mountains of packages that make up FedEx may dwarf most people, but not Laurie Tucker. This senior vice president of the world's leader in package delivery has become a giant in the field of e-commerce and is vital to her alma mater. But success didn't come overnight.

Expecting the Best
by Kristen Epler

A mound of paperwork, screens of e-mail, a full voice mailbox and a calendar of back-to-back meetings send distress signals to most, but for Laurie Tucker, it brings a challenge, blessing and start of a new day.

Laurie Tucker
U of M alumna Laurie Tucker (BBA '78, MBA '83) has climbed the corporate ladder at FedEx to become a driving force behind the world's leader in overnight package delivery.

"Going to The University of Memphis gave me the abilities to organize and be prepared," Tucker says, "but what I remember more is the challenge of constantly striving to exceed some expectation. I think that contributed greatly to what I do now."

Tucker (BBA '78, MBA '83), the senior vice president for global product marketing at FedEx Corporate Services, graduated from what was then Memphis State University at 21 with an accounting degree. Having worked through college, she landed a job as an accountant immediately after graduation. But a month later, her career took an unexpected turn.

"One of my buddies had gone to this new, upstart company by the airport," she says. "People had started talking about it and all of its orange and purple airplanes. One day my friend called and said she had an interview for me in two hours. I changed clothes, whipped over there, interviewed and was offered a job on the spot."

 

Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Stunned, Tucker accepted the position of associate financial analyst at then Federal Express Corporation. After settling in, she opted to go back to the University and earn an MBA in finance. She took classes at night while working full time. Then at 26, she was promoted to manager over pricing.

It was there that Tucker says her career really took off. "That was my first real exposure to the customer," she says. "I was working on the company's external side, which is really the lifeblood of the company."

In 1989, Tucker was named managing director of customer automation. This time, she was responsible for the company's new Power Ship Program that placed PCs on its customers' shipping docks to speed up package preparation. The program flourished and accelerated Tucker into the slot of vice president of customer automation and invoicing.

In this position, Tucker and her team launched FedEx.com. "A lot of Web sites were out there in 1994," Tucker says, "but they didn't actually do anything. We put our tracking on the Internet, and suddenly everybody wanted it."

Shortly thereafter, Tucker became senior vice president of logistics, electronic commerce and catalog. When the division changed its name to global product marketing in 2000, Tucker remained at its helm.

No Limits

Today Tucker's team of more than 400 include members of platform shipping, e-commerce marketing, supply chain marketing, FedEx.com and transportation technology. In addition to product development for all FedEx businesses, her team is responsible for the new company project, Insight.

"It's really break-through in our industry," Tucker says of the software enabling FedEx customers to track incoming as well as outgoing shipments. "This allows companies to do more proactive scheduling of their manufacturers.

"I think the biggest blessing of my career is that I've always worked on cutting edge things. I've been at FedEx for almost 23 years, and it has always been exciting."

Still Tucker attributes much of her success to her experiences at The U of M.

Measuring Up

"I was so sheltered," says Tucker, who has lived in Memphis all her life. "The University of Memphis opened my eyes to the world."

Tucker says it's important for young people to use education as a springboard. Through her own educational experiences at The U of M, she says her view of the world broadened and her business, cultural and intellectual perspectives were enhanced.

Giving back to her alma mater, Tucker serves on U of M's Board of Visitors and is a member of the Fogelman College of Business and Economics Advisory and Alumni Association boards.

Working with Dr. John J. Pepin (BBA '62, MBA '64), dean of business and economics, has been rewarding for Tucker. As his former pupil, she understands the plight of the college's students but also brings a fresh perspective from the ever-changing business world.

  Tucker with Dr. Raines
Laurie Tucker, right, and University President Shirley C. Raines share a moment at the groundbreaking ceremonies of the FedEx Emerging Technology Complex last May.

"Laurie has been a tremendous asset to the college, helping us meet challenges and creating new opportunities," says Pepin, "but I expected nothing less. I saw her as an aspiring marketing administrator. She had all the signs, and today she is a senior vice president at one of the world's largest corporations."

Tucker's current University project is the FedEx Emerging Technology Complex. She says the facility that broke ground in May will offer state-of-the-art technology curriculum. With the complex's completion projected for 2003, Tucker is already preparing for the opportunities it will bring to the Memphis information technology market, University and city as a whole.

"My vision is that we will be able to create a much stronger base of support from business and community alumni to make The U of M a stellar University," she says. "You can't have a great city if you don't have a great university."

Tucker plans to do this by rallying support. "One thing I have learned through my involvement on the Board of Visitors is how public institutions of higher education are really funded," she says. "I understand now that state funding is a percentage, and that percentage continues to decline.

"We are not going to suddenly be blessed with an endowment from the state, so we have to understand and communicate to alumni and the community at large that it's going to be through fund raising, donations and corporate commitment that we'll achieve our goals."

Role Reversal

Trying to achieve a balance between her corporate and personal life can be challenging, hectic and unstable at times for Tucker, but she and her family have adjusted.

"In our family we don't talk about what things we can acquire or what status symbol life can bring," she says. "It's not about that at all. It's really about how God can use us."

Tucker says making their faith top priority brings the family calm during stressful times. The decision to keep one parent home with the kids, she adds, has also proved to be a blessing.

After Tucker's son was born in 1993, her husband John of 13 years decided to become a stay-at-home dad.

"When Will was born, I was in sales," he says. "It occurred to me that Laurie's job had more momentum to it than mine, so I decided the best way for me to be a team player was to support her in her career and take care of the kids, which is a great job and privilege."

John, a graduate of Rhodes College, says he and the couple's son, now 7, and daughter Katy, 10, have adjusted well to the reversed roles. "Maybe I don't have the highest level of ability to take care of kids, but I more than make up for it on desire. I love the kids," he says. "The years I've spent staying home with them while Laurie's career has been on a huge upswing, are years I wouldn't trade for anything."

Staying Focused

Whether it's straightening a welcome mat in the entrance of her building, swapping heart-warming stories with a guard or pitching new ideas to FedEx chair, president and CEO Frederick W. Smith, Tucker keeps things in perspective.

"She's naturally down-to-earth," John says. "Sometimes, when people get to a certain level in the business world, they try and isolate themselves or make other people feel isolated. Laurie absolutely does the opposite. People are comfortable with her because she's just so connected."

The whole family enjoys Tucker's career and her daily challenges almost as much as she does. "It's a lot of fun having a wife so driven and motivated," John says. "She expects a great deal of herself and of her family members. She sets her goals and expectations high."

This year alone Tucker has been chosen as a recipient of The U of M Distinguished Alumni Award and was named Outstanding Alumna of the Fogelman College of Business and Economics. But she takes it all in stride and is thankful for whatever role she is filling each moment.

"We're a very blessed family," she says. "I just don't know how to phrase it any other way than we are blessed."

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