herb kelleher
Source: Southwestair community

Sad news today: one of the ‘greats’ of aviation has died. Herb Kelleher, founder of the low-cost carrier business – more specifically Southwest Airlines – was the Fred Smith of cheap travel. Starting from a business plan sketched out on a cocktail napkin, he led the charge to change the airline industry, sparking numerous copycats – some of which succeeded (Ryanair), many of which eventually failed (Laker). But it wasn’t just the simple business model allowing for lower fares, that has been much emulated – single aircraft type, high aircraft utilisation, one class – but it was also his business philosophy, well-described here by Forbes. Not only was he an innovator, he was also funny and a maverick, with a personality that pervaded everything he did. As anyone who has visited, or flown on Southwest will know, there is a specific culture at the carrier. OK, all airlines have individual characters, but this one is pleasing to staff and passengers alike. And it stemmed from his singular belief: “Treat your people well and they’ll treat you well.”

As Forbes notes: “Kelleher’s culture code started with “an audacious commitment” to put employees first, customers second, and shareholders third.”

Imagine that.


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