UPS' spiffy brown trucks may carry 6 percent of the U.S. GDP, but the company's real growth engine lies behind the closed doors of warehouses far from the tarmac.

In Joe Pyne's office at the United Parcel Service headquarters in Atlanta, there is no chalkboard covered in wildly scrawled org charts, no leaning piles of books bristling with yellow stickies, no wire trash can overflowing with crumpled sheets of notebook paper. There is no dart board, no Ping putters, no Nerf basketballs, nor any of the other usual signs that you are in the presence of the company "visionary."

Pyne, UPS' senior vice president for corporate development, stares straight ahead, rarely blinking, an archetype of the corporate executive in his immaculate white shirt, red tie, and dark suit. He would seem equally at home managing a steel mill or coal mine or timber company. Most corporate vision guys favor the first-person pronoun, and their résumés are gilded with such words as "first" and "pioneering" and "published." But Pyne is modest, inclusive. He relies on the word "we" and doesn't like to talk of his own history at UPS, other than to note that like most of his colleagues in upper management, he started on the sorting-room floor.

Indeed, spend about an hour with Pyne, and UPS' "vision guy" doesn't seem all that distinct from the legions of lesser UPS execs in white shirts and red ties who stalk purposefully through the headquarters' plush, quiet corridors, or dine in its airy, leafy lunchroom.

While many workers find such environments reassuring, High Corporate is generally not known for attracting or breeding High Concept. Still, somewhere at UPS, someone is thinking wildly creative thoughts. Someone, somewhere, created and fine-tuned the business model that made the company one of the few true beneficiaries of the dot-com-daffy, globally-gaga '90s. A company that 10 years ago was largely a mover of cardboard wrapped around Styrofoam peanuts has become - literally and figuratively - a hub of cross-border business and e-commerce.