Today’s AeroBio is Howard Putnam, former President and CEO of Southwest Airlines and Braniff International after a career from a sales representative to Group Vice President of United Air Lines.

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The Airliner Deregulation Act was passed in 1978, but the freedoms of an unfettered market took years to create real changes in airline pricing, market selection, service definition and full competition. Howard helped prepare United, as the carrier with the greatest “franchise” of routes, to compete and at the same time was instrumental in its new reservation computer developments and integration of travel agents. Then he was present at the creation of Southwest’s unique cabin/seating approach and revolutionary fares. The Braniff Board recognized that its dazzling deregulation experience had contributed to its bankruptcy and that it needed a leader who could resurrect it from that mess. Howard’s resume includes an MBA from the University of Chicago, an academic body known for its rigorous intellectual and quantitative requirements, but Howard’s work never allowed him to earn a BA. Pictured below are Howard and his son, a Captain for US Airways.


Q: Are you a pilot?
A: A private pilot’s license since 1956. My Dad taught me to fly a J-3 Cub on our Iowa farm when I was in high school. Have not flown though in 25 years.

Q: What is the coolest airplane you have ever flown in?
A: B-29, FiFi, with General Paul Tibbets (Commander of the Enola Gay to end WWII) at the controls, in 1981 at the Harlingen, TX airshow and the Confederate Air Force mock bombing run. I was seated in the nose position. 2nd would be the Air France Concorde from JFK to Paris.

Q: Over the course of your career you have participated in a number of aviation safety projects. What do you consider to be the one project with the greatest safety impact?
A: I never really participated in projects. As CEO of both Southwest and then Braniff, there was never an incident or accident those five years. I am proud of that safety environment and training.

Q: What aviation websites (other than JDA Journal) do you most frequently visit?
A:  is one we started six years ago with professional speakers with aviation in their backgrounds. Also read AAAE Smartbrief daily.

Q: What phrase or words of wisdom and the author do you cite most frequently in your aviation work?
A: For the past 24 years I have been speaking worldwide on Leadership, Ethics and the importance of People to the bottom line. A couple of lines I use:

Turbulence is inevitable, misery is optional. ( My line).
Some play the game, others change the way the game is played. (Anon)

Q: Who is your favorite person in aviation history?
A: Eddie Carlson was the Chairman and CEO of United Airlines in the 70’s when I was a young VP there. He had a tremendous influence on my life with his leadership, being a mentor (he didn’t know he was one) and his caring for people and his follow up.

Q: Which do you prefer the Paris Air Show or Oshkosh?
A: Have never attended either one. Living near Reno, NV, I served on the board of the Reno Air Show of directors for 7-8 years, so it is my favorite event.

Q: What are you reading these days for fun?
A: The typical Patterson paperbacks for airplane reading. Business books, best in the last year is still Great By Choice, by Jim Collins.

Q: What tunes are on your iPod playlist?
A: I have been a singer, solos, church choirs and quartets all my life. I play a lot of The Vocal Majority, World Championship barbershop chorus from Dallas, TX and groups like The Johnny Mann Singers and The Letterman. Not into Rap or Hip-hop. Need melodic themes with words that matter.

Q: How do you spend your leisure moments?
A: Read a bit, watch NASCAR, the NFL and yes……..we are still Cubs fans after all the years living in Chicago. I know that calls into question my judgment.

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1 Comment on "Today’s AeroBio is Howard Putnam, former President and CEO of Southwest Airlines and Braniff International after a career from a sales representative to Group Vice President of United Air Lines."

  1. I had the privilege of working with Howard at SFO. We had what was called, the ESP program, (Employees Sales Program.) It had a great deal to do with getting the employees involved in selling their own airline. This was an Eddie Carlson idea and a darn good one. Mr. Carlson is another man I had a great deal of respect for. I will always remember my days with Howard Putnam and Eddie Carlson, truly a privilege.

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