Case 3: Southwest Airlines

The case:

A couple of months ago, one of the founders of Southwest Airline, Herb Kelleher sadly passed away. Many articles have been written about his legacy, but most importantly, his revolutionization of the airline industry, with Southwest Airline. When Southwest Airline took to the skies in 1971, the mission was simple – “to democratize the skies”. It sought to open up the skies to the everyday American so they could enjoy the luxuries of the rich. It was a decision to create vast economic value based on genuine and generous human values. Even at the lowest point of airline travel in the US – the period just after 9/11, while many airline operators were suffering with loss of revenue because of lack of passengers, Southwest enjoyed loyalty from its customers with some even sending them money and choosing to receive credit instead of refunds. Despite Southwest’s unconventional choices, including allowing passengers to change or cancel flights up to 10 minutes before departure, to giving refunds to those afraid to fly after the 9/11 attacks, it is noteworthy that they have never had a money-losing year and have been ranked by Smartmoney as the best performing stock over 3 decades with a 1000% return on every dollar invested.

So how exactly did Southwest achieve this feat? They kept their operations simple and humane, they kept their staff happy, and when there was a choice between business or people benefits, they always chose people. I remember my own personal experience flying Southwest from Maryland to Houston in 2004. It was such a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and the announcements were particularly colourful.

Life Lesson:

As I reflected on Southwest Airline’s success, one thing was clear: I can build a very successful life while looking out for the needs of others. In fact, the success I build when being humane is the best sort of success.

At times, the notion of success can be laced with thoughts of needing to put others down in a bid to thrive, which as we can see from Southwest, is unnecessary. As you make your plans for the top, ask how you can help lift others up too? Ask what problems you can solve? Ask how you can make the lives of those around you better? In doing so, you will not only be blessed monetarily, but you will have raised an army of supporters who will have your back in every circumstance.

The power to make a difference lies in us all. We can choose to make a change and to be the answer to the ills of our world. When we step in and take that place, we too will thrive. As Oprah Winfrey said in her book “what I know for sure”, true power is purpose aligned with personality to serve a greater good. “Exercise true power today!