No sweat for FedEx on busiest day of the year

Tue Dec 15, 2009 8:18pm EST
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By Helen Chernikoff

MEMPHIS (Reuters) - On December 14, FedEx Corp's busiest day this year, when the shipper handled almost double its normal number of packages, the entire system stretched to accommodate the global gift-giving frenzy that culminates nearly two weeks later around Christmas.

Sound like shipping on steroids? FedEx folks insist it is just part and parcel of regular business.

"It's just a slightly longer night," said John Dunavant, the slightly hyperactive FedEx lifer who runs the company's primary hub in Memphis.

Easy for him to say: the 48-year-old father of three, who started at the company unloading planes, is famous for happily sleeping in four-hour stretches. "We prepare all year long for this. We train for it. Now it's just execution," Dunavant said.

The night of December 14 the Memphis facility took in 1.7 million packages and spat them out again 3 1/2 hours later. Worldwide, FedEx shipped about 13 million packages on December 14, compared with an average of 7.5 million.

Of course, even an ordinary day at the Memphis facility is a flexing of industrial muscle that lofts and lands hundreds of planes and deploys 8,000 package handlers along 300 miles of conveyor belts.

"300 miles'll get you from here to Louisville," Kentucky, boasts Dunavant, perhaps not coincidentally naming the city that hosts the primary air hub of FedEx rival United Parcel Service Inc. "But they've just got a little old airline up there," Dunavant said, winking.

Economists consider FedEx and UPS bellwethers for the United States and the world, so huge are they. In Memphis or in Louisville, those conveyor belts are laden with a good chunk of the nation's shipping.   Continued...

<p>FedEx personnel sort boxes at the company's Memphis World Hub during the company's busiest overall volume night of the year in Memphis, Tennessee early on December 15, 2009. REUTERS/Lance Murphey</p>