Back to FedExLegends Home Page



Ron Ponder

CIO, FedEx

An Interview with Ron Ponder, Part I

April 20, 2011

What is your Employee number:  5885


How did you come to FedEx?

My neighbor was a pilot and he me what I did. He said, you really need to meet Charlie Brandon and Fred Smith. So, he introduced me to Charlie, who introduced me to Fred.


Fred & Charlie to me to a hangar and introduced me to Johnny Johnson.


Johnny was working on a problem of how to get the Falcon jets to Memphis for maintenance and servicing. Since the Falcons were all purchased at the same time, all their system checks would come due approximately the same time. Johnny had a large room covered with butcher block paper, giving the flight schedules, how many hours the routes would take and was trying to work out some system that would get the jets eventually thru all the service checks. He was totally lost on how to do this manually.


Fred asked Ron, can you solve this problem?


Ron, said, "I think so"


So Ron was given a quick primer on airplanes and the various checks the jets needed to go thru. Ron started writing computer programs in Fortran. Joe Hinson was Ron's graduate Student and he also came into the picture. Ron gave Joe a book on Operations Research by Mailer and asked him to read the book. Joe read the book and was writing simulations in Fortran.


First Computer Simulation

They took the routes, the airline schedule and built a Computer Simulation that actually flew the jets.


They then ran the simulation backwards and were able to vary the hours and rotate the planes into Memphis for service.


Gradually over 3-6 months that flew the entire Falcon fleet.


The Computer Program was named "Engine-Engine" and it was still running in 1991 when Ron left FedEx.


They then expanded the simulations to include CREW SCHEDULING & PILOT TRIPS. The Pilot Trip Program was developed by Bill Finnegan who was an ex-pilot who had went back to school.


GE Timeshare Rental

The original simulations were done on GE Timesharing computers. They would load their programs at night on GE, and then return in the morning to see what they had.


Charlie Brandon had just enough money to pay for this computer time. (Ron called this the 'Poor Man's Cloud')


First Director of Operations Research

Ron was then hired as the first Director of Operations Research and Fred asked him to build a World Class Operations Group. Ron travelled and studied different Ops Research sytems and chose as his model British Airways and American Airlines. (Ron relayed that Operations Research was a growing field in the airline industry in the early 1970's).


He hired Jose, Chris Rodak, Bill Finnegin, Charlie Bressinger, Antony Kong and others and eventually built the department to Core group of 22 smart people.


What was your expertise at the time?

I got my degree in Management Sciences in the College of Business, but went back to Mississippi State and got a double Doctorate Major  in MIS & Operations Research.


I came to FedEx around 1975 as the Director of Operations Research.


I worked in Operations Research for a number of years and then was transferred with Jose to support the Advanced Projects group, for about 2 years.


Fred Smith and Ted Weise then promoted me to VP of Operations Planning. I inherited Harry Dalton and Ken Willougby and given the tasks to deploy Cosmos IIa and do the planning for the Memphis SuperHub.


We immediately hired 100 people and bought 50 Apple Lisa computers. It was the largest order of Lisa computers that Steve Jobs had received.