Last week I met with Gary Kelly – the CEO of Southwest Airlines. He spoke to our group – the CEO Club about Southwest’s flight plan, so to speak.
Southwest Airlines (SWA) has had 37 years of profitability, even with a doubling of fuel costs. Here’s why: People first, low cost, great service.
SWA puts their people first. Who are their most important customers? SWA EMPLOYEES. Gary said, “If your employees are not happy, then the customers who use your services will not be happy. You HAVE to have a team that is thrilled to be working with you.” The SWA culture is wrapped around this principle. Employees are recognized via awards, banquets, parties, certificates AND EMPOWERMENT. Everybody at SWA has the power to make suggestions, make changes, and have fun.
SWA knows the consumer wants value at a reasonable cost. And, SWA realizes we are tired of being charged for everything from a pillow to an exit row seat. Their decision NOT to charge an extra fee for checked bags has become a huge selling factor and an even greater ad campaign – “Bags Fly Free”.
Gary explained the SWA “foreverism” concept – how they aspire to create a positive lasting impression with everyone who flies with them. Sometimes things do go wrong. Every challenging situation is handled with a personal touch. Unhappy flyers get a personal letter and a follow-up connection with SWA. Every email is handled with a ‘servant heart’.
I live in Dallas – and I’ve flown Southwest Airlines many times. They’ve grown from a fleet of 3 to 540 airplanes; and 100 employees to 35,000. Even after all of these years, and their tremendous growth; I see why this business has succeeded.