Aviation Mourns Herb Kelleher

The Man Who Changed An Industry

Sad news today: one of the ‘greats’ of aviation has died. Herb Kelleher, founder of the low-cost carrier business – more specifically Southwest Airlines – was the Fred Smith of cheap travel.

Herb Kelleher, New Jersey born and bred, received his bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan and his law degree from New York University. He practiced law on the East Coast before relocating to Texas with plans to start his own law firm.

In 1967, Herb Kelleher and client Rollin King incorporated Air Southwest, Inc., with the idea of offering low-fare, intra-Texas airline service. After a name change and many legal battles valiantly fought and won by Herb, Southwest Airlines took to the skies on June 18, 1971.

In an article in Forbes in October of 2016, a paragraph seems to summarize the man; “Starting from a business plan sketched out on a cocktail napkin, he led the charge to change the airline industry, sparking numerous copycats – some of which succeeded (Ryanair), many of which eventually failed (Laker). But it wasn’t just the simple business model allowing for lower fares, that has been much emulated – single aircraft type, high aircraft utilization, one class – but it was also his business philosophy, well-described here by Forbes. “

Not only was he an innovator, he was also funny and a maverick, with a personality that pervaded everything he did. As anyone who has visited, or flown on Southwest will know, there is a specific culture at the carrier. OK, all airlines have individual characters, but this one is pleasing to staff and passengers alike. And it stemmed from his singular belief: “Treat your people well and they’ll treat you well.”

Famous Quote: “If the employees come first, then they’re happy…. A motivated employee treats the customer well. The customer is happy so they keep coming back, which pleases the shareholders. It’s not one of the enduring green mysteries of all time, it is just the way it works.”


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