#HerbKelleher-WILD, yes, but more so, WISE

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Farewell to Southwest’s Founder

the U. S. Chamber Business Leadership Hall of Fame;

CEO of the Year and one of history¹s top three CEOs, Chief Executive magazine;

CEO of the Century, Texas Monthly magazine;

National Sales and Marketing Hall of Fame;

CEO of the Decade-Airline Industry;

Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy;

Bower Award for Business Leadership, Franklin Institute;

Tony Jannus Award;

Wings Club Distinguished Achievement Award;

San Diego Aerospace Hall of Fame;

  1. Welch Pogue Award for Lifetime Achievement in Aviation, Aviation Week;

Airline Business Award, Airline Business magazine;

History Making Texan Award;

 the Business Halls of Fame of the State of Texas, the University of Texas, Texas A&M, and the City of Dallas;

the Herbert D. Kelleher Servant Leader Scholarship, named in Herb¹s honor by the Austin Business Travel Association;

 induction into the Texas Labor Management Hall of Fame; Transportation Research Forum President¹s Award;

 induction into the National Aviation Hall of Fame;

induction into the Paul E. Garber First Flight Shrine, Wright Brothers National Memorial;

recipient of the Department of Homeland Security Distinguished Public Service Medal;

an honorary lifetime member of the Transport Workers Union; recipient of full page USA Today “Thank You Herb!” ad from Southwest¹s Pilots union;

inducted into the AAF Tenth District Southwest Advertising Hall of Fame;

the Joseph T. Nall Safety Award, NTSB Bar Association;

the Murphy Award for Lifetime Achievement, University of North Texas;

Ronald McDonald House Charities Award of Excellence;

inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame,


 inducted into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame and the Entrepreneurs For North Texas’ Ring of Entrepreneurs.

Herb Kelleher

Maverick, Friend, and Founder of Southwest Airlines


Dear Herb

 S​outhwest Co-Founder Herb Kelleher Dies, Leaving a Legacy That Changed Airlines Forever

Southwest Airlines Founder, Discount Pioneer, Herb Kelleher Dies

Southwest Airlines’ legendary co-founder Herb Kelleher dies at 87 | Southwest Airlines | Dallas News

American Airlines Remembers Herb Kelleher

Robert Crandall’s tribute to Herb Kelleher

These obituaries accurately portray the larger than life personality which was the soul of Southwest. Funny, more accurately fun-loving, ball of energy, fearless, passionate, caring and committed to making the airline the best place to work for his coworkers and to fly for their friends and guests, known at other airlines as passengers. Wild Turkey and the omnipresent cloud of smoke obfuscated the Inner Herb. As dissembling are the images of him portrayed as a clown, the quoted action-based strategy was not the full truth:

Southwest’s plan was more than “doing things”.

At the base of everything that the company did was safety. Not just meeting the FARs literally, but whatever was needed to assure that every flight flew without risk.

Another way to increase safety was the KISS rule and applied to the WN fleet that was translated to one aircraft type. Since its founding the Love Field resident airline has bought only Mr. Boeing’s 737s.

Likely the folks in Renton, now Chicago, gave Southwest some good prices for their loyalty, but a single aircraft type provides other advantages. The guppies, thanks to some good regulatory work by Boeing, have enough consistency among its models to qualify for uniform training. With a multiple plane inventory, crew assignments are complex as new equipment is added or crews acquired by merger.

From a maintenance perspective, training and inventory are simpler when all you have is a single plane. This consistency helps with cabin crews and ground handling,

Another Herb KISS in operations can be found in WN’s famous/infamous boarding procedure and no assigned seat policy. They contribute to a short turnaround time for the aircraft and that efficiency leads to increased utilization of the flight equipment. A Southwest schedule day results in over 10 hours block time on average; that number is surprising in that its flight lengths are generally shorter than competitors with heavy transcontinental and international operations. By this turn around discipline, in essence, WN adds “virtual” aircraft to its fleet by better utilization and without paying for real ones.

When WN had its first wheels up, the competitive environment was filled with Deregulation inspired new entrants. Many, if not all, benefited from the lower operating costs associated with new/cheaper labor and also sought the refuge of underserved markets. One successful new entrant early in its growth decided to try the big boy markets and offered coast-to-coast and overseas schedules The next section of their corporate histories was entitled Chapter 11 (11 USC Chapter 11). Some of the contemporaries characterized these maneuvers as ego driven.

When your initial strategy was written on a cocktail napkin, your approach to route development is likely more simplistic. Herb was more disciplined and did not directly challenge the then-more-secure-financial airlines in their strongholds. Secondary and tertiary markets were WN’s focus. The big guys did not worry about the peripheral challenges; Southwest grew and grew and grew. Eventually, the LUV planes landed in Midway and when the company’s balance sheet was the envy of all US air carriers, Peanuts fares were offered in many markets. Today, Herb’s airline dominates in many airports.


One dimension of the public Herb aligned with his corporate strategy. The CEO’s love of people infused the WN people with a positive approach to their guests. Funny flight attendant safety announcements actually increased the passengers’ retention of that critical information.

Other airlines tried to replicate the Kelleher employee profit-sharing compensation scheme. Line pilots, customer service agents, mechanics, secretaries and others held incredibly valuable Southwest stock. SURPRISE: they were motivated to help load baggage, to assist a lost passenger or to take extra steps to rebook a flight because the stock price was a greater motivator than the salary payments. The incumbent carrier staff were dependent upon the cash flow of their very large hourly wages.

While Herb has been emeritus for a while, the Servant Mentality lives. When many airlines are seeking means of capturing collateral revenues through all manner of SERVICE CHARGES, Southwest offers TRANSFARENCY—no charges for bags, no fees for cancellation and free onboard TV.

US Airlines have had a history of highly visible and sometimes flamboyant CEOs. Eastern’s Eddie Rickenbacker, Texas Air’s Frank Lorenzo,  Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson and American’s Bob Crandall. Their contributions can be debated; however, there is very little doubt about how much this co-founder meant to Southwest.

There’s a new cloud in heaven where Herb is regaling the Supreme Being with stories holding a specially delivered glass of Wild Turkey and enough tobacco smoke to add to the extra earthly thermosphere.



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