Napkin Myth at Southwest Airlines

Graphic from Southwest Airline's History 1966 to 1971 at

Innovator Rollin King died Thursday in Dallas, Texas at the age of 83. He was the co-founder of Southwest Airlines, along with his attorney, Herb Kelleher. Terry Maxon in a blog reports, "The official myth is that King and Kelleher were at a San Antonio bar when they used a cocktail napkin to sketch out a map of Southwest’s proposed route system: a triangle linking San Antonio, Dallas and Houston." The story of starting the company on a napkin has been told for many years. It is interesting and memorable. It tells us the story behind the facts. It contains history, as well as strategy. It conveys the emotion of excitement!

Today, "Southwest Airlines is America's largest low-fare carrier, serving more Customers domestically than any other airline with a unique combination of low fares with no annoying fees, friendly Customer Service delivered by outstanding People, safe and reliable operations, and an extraordinary corporate Culture that extends into the communities we serve."

Did you know about Rollin King's part in Southwest's past? Most people don't. He took the business plan to Kelleher, and Herb Kelleher became the best known leader of Southwest. But, King said, "The fact of the matter was that Herb was trying to talk me out of the airline. he didn't think it was a good idea, at the very early, early, early stage" (Terry Maxon, "SW Airlines was his idea," Dallas Morning News, June 28, 2014, Section D, page 6D).

If the napkin story is a myth, why does Southwest have a picture of the napkin to represent its beginnings?

What is the importance of stories to the culture of an organization?