Herb Kelleher, one of the original founders of the United States 4th largest airline, Southwest, has passed away at the age of 87.
Celebrating his life’s work
Back in 1967, Herb was working as a lawyer for a client, Rollin King, when they had a brief discussion about a new type of airline. They got so passionate about it that they wrote down the idea on a cocktail napkin. They saw an opportunity for an airline to compete in the Texas triangle, a route between Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. They only had $500,000 USD capital (roughly $6.2 million USD today) to begin Southwest.
The startup venture was instantly plagued by lawsuits and other legal issues by Continental and other competitors. But thanks to Herb’s hard work and experience as a lawyer (and spending plenty of his own money), he was able to navigate these legal injunctions and have the new airline flying by 1971.
“After a name change and many legal battles valiantly fought and won by Herb, Southwest Airlines took to the skies on June 18, 1971 — a date that would change each of our lives forever, Anyone in the world who has set foot on an airplane in the past 50 years has been touched by the life of Herb Kelleher.” – Southwest statement
Part of Southwest’s mission statement, written by Herb, was to create cheap air travel for Texans, many who did not have access to cheaper options like those in New York or Chicago at the time. He also instituted a policy of ’employees first’ ensuring that his staff had enough benefits and enjoyed working for the airline. This is reflected into customer service through quirky announcements and giveaways.
“Employees came first. Employees first, customers second, shareholders third. If the employees serve the customer well, the customer comes back, and that makes the shareholders happy,” – Herb Kelleher to CNBC.
Herb served as the airlines executive chairman from 1978 to 2008 (30 years, which is very impressive and must have seen a total change to the airline industry) before retiring. He also served as the CEO of the airline from 1981 to 2001.
Southwest today is a juggernaut of an airline, worth $20 billion and has a fleet of 750 aircraft (and 260 on order) that impressively, are all variants of the Boeing 737. The airline is now beginning what could be it’s first foray into long-haul travel, with routes to Hawaii launching very soon.
He is remembered by the many staff members who he worked with, other industry leaders, aviation fans and the millions of passengers that ride with his airline every year.
“His stamp on the airline industry cannot be overstated, his vision for making air travel affordable for all revolutionized the industry, and you can still see that transformation taking place today. But his legacy extends far beyond our industry and far beyond the world of entrepreneurship. His true impact can only be accurately measured by the hearts and minds of the people who he inspired, motivated, and engaged on a daily basis.” – Southwest CEO Gary Kelly
We will miss you Herb and fear the world will never see your like again.
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