As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Aimee DiCicco, SVP of Commercial Business Development at FedEx Office.
As the SVP of Revenue Operations and Business Development at FedEx Office, Aimee guides the strategic direction, vision and innovation of commercial sales, eCommerce & product development. Her role is to lead teams responsible for the generating revenue focused on customer experience from end to end, from trusted and strategic business consultants to teams who develop and deliver physical and digital solutions that enable the success of our Commercial, Small and Medium and Retail customers. FedEx Office enables Fortune 1000 and Small and Medium business customers to maximize the value of FedEx Office, which integrates digital, retail, print and distribution systems into a dynamic set of capabilities. Not to mention FedEx Office’s collaboration and integration with the larger FedEx network to deliver unparalleled quality, reliability, and speed for its customers.
Aimee keenly understands that flexibility is the new currency of the workplace. Companies must pivot, flex and scale in considering the health and safety of their people and their customers, as well as how information flows inside and outside of their organizations. At FedEx Office, she leads her teams to create custom, dynamic solutions that help customers meet what’s next.
As a veteran of FedEx across multiple operating companies over 25 years, Aimee has worked to further the FedEx Office story by helping make the organization an industry leader in the commercial printing marketplace.
Aimee is a trailblazer. From finding talent in unusual places and faces, to beating breast cancer and helping others along their journeys, to being unapologetic that her priorities are faith, family, health, and FedEx Office and how those priorities shape her approach to her career, life, and relationships.
Aimee is setting new standards, breaking barriers, and ushering in a whole new era of work.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Right out of college I started my career in customer service for Roadway Package System, what is now the FedEx Ground operating company within FedEx. It wasn’t a planned “career path” but rather the need for a paycheck and willingness to hire a kid straight out of college! Fortunately, the company was in growth mode and my skillset allowed a fairly quick transition to sales and eventually into training and leadership. Along the way we were acquired by FedEx — a much larger organization.
Thankfully, work ethic and the willingness to adapt to new challenges paved a road to more leadership opportunity and, with a director level promotion, a relocation to Dallas, TX. That eventually opened a new door that brought me to FedEx Office where my career path has continued to expand as new challenges and opportunities made themselves available.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’m happy to share that there have been many people along the way that I am grateful for. The first is a woman that gave me the promotion that I believe laid the foundation for my leadership career, Mary Shelfer. Although I was a go-to for peer training newly hired sales people, I was passed over several times for a promotion into sales management. Mary was the manager of our Sales Training department and those positions were highly coveted. When one of the positions opened up, I applied for it and she granted me an interview. Along with at least 11 other people. I would come to learn that of the 11, I was the only one that didn’t have a laundry list of people making recommendations on their behalf. But 2 weeks later as I was working late at my desk, Mary called and offered me the job. She told me she was going out on a limb but my interview and her gut instinct said it was the right decision. I made sure she never regretted it. And it was that role years later that allowed me to gain immediate exposure to senior sales leadership post-FedEx acquisition that helped me to navigate a promotion to sales leadership that set a path for the rest of my career.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
As a Yale undergraduate, Frederick W. Smith writes a term paper outlining a system to accommodate urgent, time-sensitive shipments such as medicine, computer parts, and electronics. He receives an average grade. In 1971 he founded FedEx Express Corporation on a People-Service-Profit cultural foundation that is a strong today as it was at the beginning.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
We all just lived through one of the most uncertain times of most of our lifetimes — the pandemic. Our customers shut down, we shut down, revenues dropped dramatically, and nobody knew what the future for business would look like. There were more questions than answers for months as information changed and the situation worsened in areas. There was no handbook. That said, I knew that leading from a place of authenticity would be key. No amount of personal and professional communication could be too much. And creating a clear vision for what our controllable actions where, how we would take them and why they mattered would keep everyone moving forward one courageous step at a time.
I knew that handbook because one of the most difficult leadership times I’ve had was when I was battling breast cancer. As a sales leader, I needed my team to keep doing their jobs both for their customers and for their own success. But they were afraid of the “what if”, and I couldn’t make them any promises. Each surgery and chemo treatment brought new difficulties and unknowns. That is where I forged the handbook that I leaned into for each difficulty since, including the pandemic. Authenticity — Communication — Set the vision — Control the controllable, don’t let the uncontrollable hold you back.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I don’t think I’d be human if I didn’t have fleeting thoughts of giving up from time to time. The difference is they are just thoughts. What if’s that allow a bit of brain space, time to take a breath if you will. But for me, they are just that, a breath. My faith leads me to pray about all my circumstances, the blessings and the challenges. That is where my motivation to continue foundationally comes from. If I’m upright and breathing then there is a purpose for my life. If I have a peace in the storm, then I know I’m to continue on the path. Ensuring I keep the priorities of family, faith and health within the chaos allows me to sustain my drive.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Staying steady, keeping the lines of authentic communication wide open and ensuring a clear vision is set that people know they can take meaningful action against.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Be connected personally as well as professionally. Make those extra check in calls and texts. Reward and recognition goes a long way when people are doing extraordinary things in times of challenge. Staying honest and authentic about the challenges, seeking to understand, listening and encouraging both individually and the team helps people to stay inspired and motivated to just do the next right thing. And those things add up because the only way through is through.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Face to face, whether in person or via technology is powerful whenever possible. If the audience is too broad it may be best in writing. Either way, being as clear and direct as possible about the news up front is vitally important. Giving access to ask and answer questions, either live or in a well thought out FAQ can help reduce frustration stemming from the unknown. Always lead with empathy vs minimizing the issue. And then whatever action can, will or should be taken to move through the situation should be shared as soon as available. Inertia only serves to make difficult situations worse in my opinion.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
As the saying goes, people make plans but God laughs. However, if your business has a clear mission as FedEx does — To make every FedEx experience outstanding — then you can ground actionable plans to what you do know in the moment that supports the mission. Once you have that blueprint, when elements in the future change from what was assumed during planning, you have a good mechanism in place to adapt and lead through whatever comes next.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
As a company you have to stick to the principles that got you to where you are now, your core beliefs. For FedEx we have three,
- Safety above all for our team members
- People — Service — Profit philosophy — This has been around since the beginning of FedEx. You treat your employees well they then give great service to customers who then in turn generate profit for the company. You then funnel that profit back into treating your employees well and the cycle continues.
- The Purple Promise — The FedEx Purple Promise is to make every FedEx experience outstanding. And that is just not about frontline team members helping customers, it’s about manager and team member interactions, corporate support staff assisting the field or the CEO meeting with a frontline team member.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Rather than opine on the methodologies of other businesses, I’d just state as I shared above that authentic communication, and a lot of it, is key. Both internally and externally. Don’t let not having all the answers get in the way of that.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
You can’t save your way to prosperity but ensuring the cost drivers of the business are in check is critical to ensure the greatest amount of flowthrough on revenues generated. That is something that should be monitored during periods of business prosperity so that when there are periods of economic turbulence, you aren’t also having to do the hard work of cutting cost. In terms of growth traction, there may be opportunities to pivot selling assets and marketing towards focused verticals that may still be in growth mode while pulling those resources from others that aren’t. It is also a time to rethink whether there is a different way to create value such as a refined product or solution set that better meets the needs of your customer base in the current environment. It can also be a good time to lean into the idea of not wasting a crisis. That strategic change or direction a business has been wanting to take but not wanting to risk a disruption in revenue or service to take it, a period of economic downturn may just be the time to pull that lever.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Authenticity — In times of struggle people need human connection from their leaders. Yes, they need to see courageous leadership, but they also want to know you are being truthful so they can trust in the storm. Nothing has been more powerful in my career during challenging times than to connect authentically and share as a person first, then a leader. Telling my team the truth when the chemo was taking a toll, or when my kids were imploding on each other during pandemic caused home school established empathy and trust that they could trust what I was telling them from a business standpoint.
- Communication — During my cancer journey I began an email series to my team after every milestone. Hair fell out, email. ER visit for chemo side effects, email. Surgery went well, email. Of course I was communicating all that was needed to keep the work moving forward also. But by communicating early and often about the challenges meant they didn’t lose momentum worrying about the unknown.
- Sharing a Vision — When people were sent home to work and our customers were doing the same, we had more questions than answers. The authenticity and communication were critical, but as soon as there was enough information to paint a clear path of how we would navigate and what success, even in the short term look like, we did. Vision is critical to giving purpose, meaning and motivation to continue moving forward during times of challenge.
- Prioritization — Action for the sake of action doesn’t equal positive results. Ensuring you focus on the most important actions, goals and initiatives helps to maximize output and gain meaningful momentum and needed momentum. It also helps make it clear to team members what matters most when they may be dealing with higher levels of personal and professional uncertainty.
- Reward & Recognition — In my experience, tough times bring out some of the best of humanity. Whether it is a courageous decision, and selfless act of kindness for a peer or an above and beyond effort to serve a customer, taking every opportunity to celebrate those things both with the individual and in public if appropriate goes a long way to building morale and encouraging momentum.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The phrase, ‘This too shall pass’. As a child, many of my most cherished memories were with my maternal grandmother, my Nunni. She battled significant health issues as a result of high dose radiation and aggressive surgeries to battle breast cancer earlier in her life. She never let pain, surgeries or hospital stays stop her. She would just tell me pray with her, let her rest a bit so it would “pass” and then we’d be on our way to the next adventure. From making apple pies, to walking to and from Church on summer weekends to staying up much later than my parents would have ever allowed during sleepovers, she taught me that no matter the challenge, with my faith to guide me and my family surrounding me there will be good on the other side.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Follow me on LinkedIn. I have been working on writing more and sharing my thoughts on business. https://www.linkedin.com/in/aimeedicicco/