Interview: Herb Kelleher, Legendary CEO of Southwest Airines


Herb Kelleher changed the world. Before founding Air Southwest Company in 1967, Herb was a young Texas lawyer frustrated with the cost of transportation throughout the state. Kelleher and his co-founder (and law client) Rollin King set out bring those costs down. The airline almost didn’t make it off the ground, facing a bevy of legal challenges as competitors maneuvered to block the young upstart. With Herb personally involved in the legal battle, the young company won key cases in the both the United States Supreme Court and the Texas Supreme Court that saved the airline from a premature demise.

When the renamed Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV) began flights in 1971, the company flew to only three Texas airports. Today, Southwest carries more passengers in the U.S. than any other airline. By focusing on making flights affordable and taking care of employees, Herb guided Southwest’s growth as Executive Chairman from 1978 to 2008, and as president and CEO from 1981 to 2001. That legacy lives on today, with Southwest as the only airline that refuses to charge reservation change fees and the only one to allow customers to bring two checked bags for free.

In a statement released following Herb’s passing on January 3rd, American Airlines (NASDAQ: AAL) CEO Doug Parker may have best summarized the power of Herb’s ideals, not just for airlines but for all businesses, saying, “His style presents the ultimate case study for airlines or any service company whereby if you take care of your people, they will take care of your customers, which will take care of your shareholders. That simple yet profound way of leading continues to inspire us, and we aspire to honor Herb’s example.” As we remember Herb’s legacy, we hope you’ll enjoy this conversation between Herb and Motley Fool CEO Tom Gardner, recorded in 2017.

Subscribe to The Motley Fool’s YouTube Channel:
Or, follow our Google+ page:

Inside The Motley Fool: Check out our Culture Blog!
Join our Facebook community:
Follow The Motley Fool on Twitter:



Robert Dunfee


  1. Roger Alsop
    July 22, 2021 at 2:41 am

    A great man.

    July 22, 2021 at 2:41 am

    22:12 I'm watching this on 12/4/2020…Southwest is laying off 7,000 employees

  3. Patrick Wenzel
    July 22, 2021 at 2:41 am

    To think how many airlines around the world tried to replicate Southwest's methodology, expecting their employees to follow these principals but not realising they themselves had to as well. A house of cards won't hold up because you say it will. I assume Herb would've shaken his head and involuntarily laughed at all those who tried under that mindset.

  4. Pink Bunny
    July 22, 2021 at 2:41 am

    Surely his laugh is contagious 😂😂and his a very humble man..great interview..🤗👍⚘

  5. John McCloud
    July 22, 2021 at 2:41 am

    All of us at Southwest love and miss you Herb, I enjoyed watching this interview. I love my job, Because of that awesome smart man.

  6. Lorenzo Peloso
    July 22, 2021 at 2:41 am


  7. Beth Leaver
    July 22, 2021 at 2:41 am

    So engaging. What a beautiful soul! I wish so many leaders out there were like him. The world would be a kinder place!

    July 22, 2021 at 2:41 am

    the best father of king services in airline

  9. Viviana Vladutescu
    July 22, 2021 at 2:41 am

    Thank you for posting this great interview. Herb's personality, wit, habits, and blue eyes were very, very much like my dad's! I wish I had the chance to meet Herb in person…

  10. renae Cross
    July 22, 2021 at 2:41 am

    His laugh is contagious. Wish I had the opportunity to meet this great man. Rest In Peace Herb❤️

  11. BicyclingAround
    July 22, 2021 at 2:41 am

    @51:10 Is he talking about Jim Clark ?

  12. Captain Picard
    July 22, 2021 at 2:41 am

    Great interview. That cigarette at the end really is the topper.

  13. ajb868686
    July 22, 2021 at 2:41 am

    One of a kind.

  14. Something Catchy
    July 22, 2021 at 2:41 am

    Unbelievably Sharp at his age,amazing.

  15. Njoroge Wangari
    July 22, 2021 at 2:41 am

    Fly high Mr Kelleher, thanks for your service to aviation.