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Winning by Creating Win/Wins

At FedEx and beyond, Karen Rogers follows team-focused leadership approach

Karen Rogers
Co-founder & Former Chief Marketing Officer, Calade Partners

Vanderbilt MBA 1984

On a table in Karen Rogers’ office sits a picture of General George C. Marshall, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff during the World War II and, afterward, the architect for the plan to rebuild Europe that bears his name.

“Someone suggested it to me,” explains Karen. “I’ve been told that I’m more like Marshall, a peacemaker type who understood the political landscape and how to navigate it, rather than a General Patton type. Both were driven to win the war, but they had different ways of getting there. One was willing to take a tank and say, ‘I don’t care how many bodies I run over—I’m going to win.’ But a statesman doesn’t care about every single skirmish—he looks for win/win situations, and he always keeps the end goal in sight. Some day you may need those bodies you ran over trying to get from point A to point B.”

In nearly three decades with FedEx, Karen held 12 different positions, serving ultimately as the company’s vice president of U.S. marketing. In each, she has built on her reputation for marketing, and managing, with a win/win philosophy. She oversaw all U.S. advertising and brand management as well as the company’s world-class portfolio of sports sponsorships and marketing alliances. (Think FedEx Cup, the PGA tour’s championship trophy, and Joe Gibbs Racing, the FedEx sponsorship in NASCAR.)

A fan of NASCAR racing the professional bull riding, Karen doesn’t shy away from professional risk-taking. Earlier in her career, not long after a promotion to international marketing director, she stepped up to serve for a year on a hand-selected team charged with refining FedEx’s long-term strategy.

Had she not taken on that challenge, outside the usual framework for promotions, she likely wouldn’t have had the chance to serve as managing director for fedex.com, leading the effort to set the company up as a leader across industries and internationally for its innovative use of the internet as a marketing tool and customer interface.  

While developing the website, Karen worked directly with company founder, chairman and CEO Fred Smith, whose take on technology and its potential has driven the company’s growth. “Technology allowed us to change the way we go to market with new products and services,” Karen says.

She credits Vanderbilt with getting her to FedEx in the first place. “My plan was to stay in Memphis for two years and then return to Nashville because my family was there,” she says. “But 12 jobs later, I was still growing. That’s why I stayed.”

Through all that time, she maintained the win/win philosophy that is a hallmark of her leadership style. “As human beings, we have an innate sense of whether people are fending for themselves or really caring about you,” Karen says. “People know if you want to get ahead at their expense. The leaders who want to make you look good are the leaders you want to follow, because you know they care about you.”

In 2013 Karen left FedEx to co-found and serve as Chief Marketing Officer for Calade Partners, a Memphis-based business consulting firm that helps small and medium-sized companies find creative solutions to address difficult strategy, brand and/or marketing problems. In making the move, perhaps she was taking some of her own advice to others: “If you’re not taking risks, you’re not doing your job.”

“The leaders who want to make you look good are the leaders you want to follow.”