page title icon Flexibility and Empathy: Key Lessons for Business Leaders in the Post-COVID World

Ambition, Values, and Creating Remarkable Outcomes in the Business World

In this episode of the Fast Leader Show, Tom Schmitt shares valuable lessons learned from the past few years. He emphasizes the importance of flexibility, empathy, and prioritizing customer needs. 

Tom, a seasoned CEO, stresses the significance of assigning leaders who are skilled and willing. He encourages ambition for remarkable outcomes, rather than personal goals. Tom highlights the need for strong work processes, passion, and determination. He discusses the power of tapping into both analytical and passionate sides of the brain for better outcomes. Tom shares simple yet impactful ideas from his book, urging leaders to ask the right questions and make step changes. He emphasizes the value of diversity in leadership teams and leaving a positive impact in all interactions. Tom proposes focusing on amplifying momentum in successful areas rather than solely fixing struggling ones. 

Lastly, he introduces an effective time management tool that aligns energy with task significance. Overall, the episode provides practical insights for businesses seeking to enhance their performance and leadership approaches.

When people ask Tom Schmitt where he’s from, he tells them the “deep south” — which is true, just not in the traditional American sense. Tom and his brother grew up in a small town, in the deep south of Germany. His parents taught him and his brother two important lessons that have directly contributed to who he is today and how he leads as a CEO: the importance of strong values and having confidence in oneself. Without these ideas instilled in his mind, Tom would have never left Germany to become CEO of a $2 billion premium, expedited ground transportation company focused on the U.S. market.

Before moving to the U.S., Tom began his education at the University of Heidelberg, hoping to become a teacher – but he stumbled upon International Business. This was when he realized that he could obtain two degrees at two separate universities in different countries, allowing him to experience living in different countries. This path led him to receive his Bachelor of Arts in European Business Administration from Middlesex University. While there, he had the opportunity to intern for British Petroleum (BP), where he was offered a job at the end of the internship. After a year into his career at BP, he rose to managing multiple BP gas stations across Cleveland, Ohio, with more than 100 employees, winning “Best in District” several times. 

Later he held senior roles at McKinsey & Company before spending 12 years at FedEx in Memphis, TN where he served as CEO of FedEx Supply Chain and SVP of FedEx Solutions. Then he served as President, CEO, and Director of Purolator, Canada’s top parcel and freight transportation company, and from 2013 until 2015, he was President, CEO, and Director of Aqua Terra. In 2015, he served as Management Board Member and Chief Commercial Officer for DB Schenker, a $20 Billion Global Logistics Company, before moving to his current role as Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Forward Air. He’s also a published co-author of “Simple Solutions,” a leadership book published by Wiley & Sons. This book lays out simple and pragmatic tools to draw on both the analytical side and the more creative side of our brain.

Currently, leading Forward Air from the Atlanta, Georgia location, Tom is particularly proud of the support Forward Air provides military veteran drivers. Forward’s charitable arm, supports the company’s efforts in building a workforce that benefits veterans in ways their competition does not. Tom has also led Forward to achieve record revenue while increasing driver pay, which has helped promote their low driver turnover rate, which is considerably lower than their competitors’ 90% turnover rate.

Tom currently lives in Atlanta with his wife Anita.

Tweetable Quotes and Mentions

Listen to Tom Schmitt get over the hump on the @FastLeaderShowClick to Tweet

“I’m very proud to know now that in our seven people leadership team, two of those seven at least, no longer look like you and me. And they make for a better combination of a discussion and better outcomes than what we had before.” – Click to Tweet

“If we put somebody in place for that to be led, who’s low willed and low skilled to do so, it’s wrong on every single dimension. We’re going to screw up the organization because it’s going to be a failure.” – Click to Tweet

“When you find a way to be ambitious for remarkable outcomes for others, for the project team, it’ll come back to you.” – Click to Tweet

“I want to make sure I leave it better than I found it.” – Click to Tweet

Advice for others

Focus on building a strong team. You’ll find that with the right team, everything becomes easier and more enjoyable, propelling you forward. It’s a skill worth honing for any leader.

Holding him back from being an even better leader

I need to improve my listening skills to become a better leader. I often find myself explaining things rather than trying to understand others. I aim to overcome this tendency, which comes from years of mainstream success, and focus more on absorbing what others have to say before acting.

Best Leadership Advice

The best leadership advice I ever received was to lead with my heart, using my head to steer the course. This principle guided me from a small town in Germany to pursuing the American dream, making bold, heart-led choices along the way.

Secret to Success / Tools

My genuine intention to see others succeed is one of my best tools in leadership. Even though I started with somewhat selfish ambitions, I have shifted my focus to prioritize the success of the people and teams around me.

A Million Dollar Baby

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