There is one thing that has defined Southwest as a Company since day one: Heart. At the center of that, was our Founder and Chairman Emeritus Herb Kelleher. Herb was a Freedom Fighter who revolutionized the skies, and his passing in January 2019, impacted us all.
Herb led Southwest Airlines, first as the Company’s Cofounder and legal counsel from 1966 to 1981, then as President, Chief Executive Officer, and Chairman of the Board from 1981 to 2001. During his tenure, Herb Kelleher produced the highest return to shareholders of any company in the S&P 500.88) Tully, S. (2019, January 16). Remembering Herb Kelleher: An Unparalleled Innovator in Commercial Aviation. Fortune. https://fortune.com/2019/01/16/remembering-herb-kelleher-an-unparalleled-innovator-in-commercial-aviation/ In 2001, at the age of 70, Kelleher retired from his positions as President and Chief Executive Officer, and continued to serve as Chairman of the Board until 2008.
He blazed a trail of low fares and exemplary Customer Service in an industry ruled by just the opposite, and disrupted the airline industry by making flying both fun and affordable. Anyone in the world who has set foot on a Southwest airplane in the past 50 years has been touched by Herb’s life.
Following his passing, Southwest Employees, Retirees, Customers, and longtime friends of Herb gathered to celebrate his life—a time marked with laughter, a few tears, and Herb’s zest for life. To honor Herb, Southwest donated a combined total of $1 million to the Southwest Airlines Employees Catastrophic Assistance Charity and The Herbert D. Kelleher and Rollin W. King Scholarship Fund. Through these organizations, Southwest positively impacts the lives of our Employees and their families.
Leading an organization is as much about soul as it is about systems. Effective leadership finds its source in understanding.
The amount of the donation is significant, because it truly represents our Southwest Family. For every Southwest Employee as of January 2019, Southwest donated $7.37— rounding to a $1 million donation to honor Herb’s life and legacy.
Herb has been quoted as saying, “It is my practice to try to understand how valuable something is by trying to imagine myself without it.” We now have to imagine ourselves without Herb. Our Founding Father has passed on, but the legacy that he has left to each of us is still very much alive and inspires us daily. Herb will always be a part of the Southwest Family and will be remembered for his Leadership, laughter, and above all, his Heart.