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Herb Kelleher 1931-2019

Southwest founder Herb Kelleher was quite a character and a great CEO! He said that employees were first, customers second, and shareholders third. “He really did care about his people. Those weren’t just platitudes he’d offer about putting Southwest’s people first, customers second, investors third. He meant that stuff. And he really did work 16 hours a day and run a remarkably successful business. And, yes, he really did drink all that whiskey and smoke all those cigarettes. He really was a strategic genius, an incredible lawyer, and a better lobbyist and politician than many people knew.”


Gary Kelly, current CEO of Southwest, wrote that Kelleher's "vision for making air travel affordable for all revolutionized the industry, and you can still see that transformation taking place today." Before Southwest Airlines, usually only the rich flew on airplanes.


When asked about employees, Kelleher said, “I don’t accept that if you get to some size you can’t manage the same way. We’ve always said that our No. 1 priority is our people, and as we get larger we just have to find different ways of manifesting that. If you think that people are the most important thing, then you work harder at giving them what they need.”

  • What are some of the ways that Kelleher showed he cared deeply about his employees?
  • Kelleher worked with baggage, booked tickets, and delivered peanuts to perform every job—except pilot—in the company. How does this behavior differ from managers that you know?
  • What advice would Kelleher give managers today?
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