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Retirement lands Shannon Brown’s 44-year flight at FedEx

Somehow Shannon A. Brown’s mother knew, even when he was very young, that he would become a man with great responsibility.

“Mother would always be pinning money in my pocket with a safety pin and saying, ‘Here, take this and go pay the rent,’ or ‘go and pay this bill or that bill,’” Brown said. 

Brown’s mother was right, and she would live many years to see her intuitive sense come to fruition.

On Nov. 30, Brown retired from FedEx as the senior vice-president of Eastern U.S. Operations and the Chief Diversity Officer for FedEx Express, where he started as a young man in the FedEx hub handling packages in 1978. From that modest beginning, he moved impressively up the ranks for more than four decades.

Brown will miss the dynamic team he has mentored and shaped over the years. But … it was his time.

“We live in a world now that is moving very quickly,” Brown said. “Communication moves very fast. We get instant notification on everything. When you look back at retirement … all of this was post-Depression. Today, we can’t look at retirement like for what it was originally designed to be, back in the 30s.

“I am retired, but I’ve got to stay active. I didn’t have to retire … I was having lots of fun at FedEx. When you look at the team I worked so hard to groom, I have mentored these guys and provided development for them …To just stay on would not give them the opportunity to really experience the consequences of decisions made in a greater place of responsibility.”

Shannon A. Brown (second from left), as senior vice president/chief human resources and diversity officer for FedEx Express, gave the keynote address on “FedEx Free Day” at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta on Super Bowl XLIII weekend 2019. (Courtesy photo)

A lot of thought went into Brown’s decision to retire at this time.

 “It was the right time,” Brown said. “Sometimes, you have to step aside, and let some other individuals move on. Five people were promoted when I left, you see. So just that one move allowed these people to move up.

“I will be here, of course, if they need me, but now, the decisions they make are theirs, and they own them.”

Brown graduated from Westwood High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from National-Louis University in Chicago, Illinois. When he graduated in 1978, Brown returned home to Memphis to find his dream executive job.

He abandoned his plan to “start at the top” when a friend told him FedEx was hiring. Brown took a gamble on himself and wagered that no matter how humble his beginning, he would not remain there for long. 

The company policy was promotion from within, the support and teamwork were phenomenal, and Brown’s ambition was ignited.

There was nowhere to go but up.

Brown grew with FedEx. Accepting a job in the hub with a college degree paid off big. 

FedEx wasn’t even a decade old when Brown joined the company. Both were in their infancy.

“I have had the opportunity to travel the globe,” said Brown. “I was over HR practices around the world. I got the chance to experience cultures in the 220 countries and territories where we are, and I have learned a valuable lesson. We all want the same thing — that is to work and grow, and to be treated with dignity and respect. …”

Fred Jones Jr. and FedEx’s Shannon Brown during the benediction for the Southern Heritage Classic Coaches’ Luncheon in September 2018. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku/The New Tri-State Defender Archives)

Brown may do some traveling, but he’s been practically everywhere.

 “I may go a few places, but that won’t be my main focus,” Brown said. “I moved 12 times over the course of my career. One thing I can tell you about this retirement is that I will always be busy. I’m working on a couple of things because there is definitely a ‘next.’

 “I don’t know whether I just came along at the right time, but I have been blessed beyond measure in my career. This is really not retirement. I am closing a chapter in my life and preparing to open another.”

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