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.
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