As FedEx expands its services, battles competitors, and responds to
the safety concerns all shipping services now face, Bill Margaritis
makes sure the company's message remains timely and strong. James Chase
You could have forgiven Bill Margaritis for hitting the panic button in
the last two months. With the government's immediate decision to ground
planes following the September 11 terrorist attacks, and the subsequent
anthrax contamination that has plagued the postal system, you'd think a
$20-billion-a-year global shipping enterprise would be in a bit
of a scrape.
And if that's not enough, there are numerous investors to answer to, and
the stock market hasn't exactly been sunshine and roses. But typical of
his methodical approach and seemingly unflappable nature, Margaritis,
FedEx's corporate VP of worldwide communications and investor relations,
slipped into a crisis response so thoroughly anticipated. You'd think
Nostradamus had a hand in this plan.
"We took our plan and adjusted it to specific issues," says
"We asked ourselves, 'How can we continue to run our business?' and
then, 'How can we protect our employees and reassure our
He is proud of the way his departments cross-collaborated and delivered
accurate information quickly, all of which he sees as vital elements to
a successful response.
Don't mistake this cool efficiency for a lack of compassion, though.
While US Postal Service workers are loudly and publicly fearing for
their safety, Margaritis has taken great pains to reassure the 215,000
FedEx employees that the company is doing everything it can to protect
"Crises bring out the best attitude of a communications team and an
employee culture," he says.
Margaritis, who joined FedEx in 1997, heads an in-house global
communications staff of 140 with a budget of $25 million a year.
In addition, the company has a long-standing relationship with Ketchum,
which is viewed as an extension of the in-house team.
More than half of Margaritis' staff works in employee communications,
which he sees as key to the company's "one vision, one voice"
To carry internal messages, FedEx operates one of the largest private
satellite TV networks in the world, offering interactive communication
with all employees at 1,500 facilities across the globe. "If you can't
get the employee culture behind your vision," Margaritis says, "then the
marketplace is at risk."
That marketplace is changing rapidly, and so too is FedEx. The
organization recently split into five independently operating companies:
FedEx Express, FedEx Ground, FedEx Freight, FedEx Custom Critical, and
FedEx Trade Networks.
And while each has a dedicated communications team, most of Margaritis'
staff works across the collective FedEx brand.
In fact, Margaritis sees communicating the values of this "new FedEx" as
his biggest challenge, one he clearly relishes. "FedEx is no longer an
overnight express line," he says. "The volume, complexity, and intensity
of issues has magnified as more services have been added." He says the
ultimate communications challenge is to make the brand relevant to a
new, more tech-savvy generation.
So how does Margaritis deal with the challenge of UPS? "It's a bit like
Coke versus Pepsi," he says. "We share the same space. I prefer to let
our products and services sell themselves."
Being a native of Greece, and having spent a few years overseas working
on various communications assignments, Margaritis is sensitive to the
issues of growing FedEx globally. "It's important to strike a balance
between corporate objectives and offshore needs," he says. "You have to
establish thresholds of standards, without micromanaging."
Margaritis first caught the communications bug at Michigan State
University. "I really enjoyed being able to influence agendas,
decision-making, strategy, and execution," he recalls fondly. By the
time he was 25, his passion and skills took him to Washington, DC, where
he spent several years in public affairs, including a term working for
the Reagan administration.
While he believes strongly in the value of good communication,
Margaritis does think the PR industry can do a lot better. "PR needs to
redefine itself," he says. "It is often misconceived as publicity or
spin. PR people need to evolve into multitalented, business-oriented
professionals with more integrity. PR needs to raise the bar."
David Drobis, senior partner and chairman at Ketchum, is well aware of
Margaritis' passion and commitment. "Through his intelligence and
experience, he has made PR a valued business strategy throughout the
FedEx organization," says Drobis. "His passion for everything from a
meeting to the golf course is his greatest strength, and his biggest
undoing. He's a demon on the phone and with a three wood."
In fact, the boundaries between his private and professional outlook
often appear blurred because so many of Margaritis' personal values are
aligned with those of the brand he communicates. He likes to watch his
children grow and learn; this could equally apply to his FedEx "family."
He prefers college sports to professional sports because of the
enthusiasm, purity, and passion of the players - a similar psyche to the
employee culture he's creating at FedEx. He likes to be exposed to
multicultural environments; so, too, does FedEx.
Margaritis is determined to stay at FedEx and achieve what he set out to
do, namely to maximize the value of its business ventures and build a
world-class communications team. "I'm very happy here," he says. "What I
most appreciate and enjoy about this job are the people with whom I
work. At the end of the day when you spend so much time in a business
environment, what matters most is whether you enjoy working with the
people around you."
1981-1985: Legislative assistant, Michigan Senate, Lansing, MI
1984: Deputy director, Reagan-Bush campaign for Michigan, Detroit
1985-1988: Special assistant, Office of the Secretary, US Dept. of
1988-1992: Manager, government affairs, Occidental Petroleum Corp.,
1992-1994: Chief PR officer, Athens Metro. On overseas assignment with
1995-1997: VP, marketing communications and PR, Bechtel International,
1997-current: Corporate VP, worldwide communications and investor
relations, FedEx, Memphis, TN. Joined as VP and was promoted a year