Lessons from Southwest Airlines

southwest airlines



In the most recent Fortune Magazine, reporter Jennifer Reinghold interviews the founder and chairman emeritus of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher.

Besides being the US biggest low-cost airline, Southwest holds another title:  Successful.   They shook up a staid, complacent industry with a bold, innovative approach to flying.

When’s the last time you used a paper ticket to fly on an airplane?  You can thank Herb & Company:  Southwest invented the e-ticket.

Herb, now 82, puts forth a lot of great ideas on leadership.  A couple of gems:

  • (Leaders) should be there when they’re (their people) are having problems, and stay out of their way when things are going well.  
  • Power should be reserved for weightlifting and boats and leadership really involves responsibility.

Southwest is known for it’s amazing customer service.  Since it’s founding in 1971, it’s carried about 1.5 Billion customers.

In an industry that perennially loses money, Southwest consistently turns a profit.  It’s also never had a layoff or a furlough in its 42 year history.  It’s no small business: it employs 46,000 people.   In 2011, received 193,636 resumes and hired 4,349 new Employees.

When asked about the company’s “People Strategy”, Kelleher tells how many other companies have come to visit Southwest, looking for their secret formula.  The fact is there is no secret formula.  As Kelleher says,

“The concept is simple, but the execution takes a lot of work and a lot of attention.”  One Southwest ramp agent once sent Kelleher a note that said, “Herb, I finally got it.  You’re making work fun, and home is work.”

The word “Love” not just a marketing ploy for Southwest.  If you’ve flown a Southwest flight, you see it show up in how everyone treats you as a customer.  At Southwest, they realize they’re not in the aviation business, they’re in the people business.   Their stock ticker is LUV.   If that wasn’t enough love for you, the company employs 1,309 married couples. In other words, 2,618 Southwest Employees have spouses who also work for the Company.

You can’t fake caring.  People smell it out.

Where could you show a little more love today?  Let’s face it…you’re in the people business too.



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