Herb Kelleher – Southwest Airlines Speech

Yesterday I went to a speech given by the famous founder of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher. As always, watching Herb speak was a great time!

I have great admiration for this man and his unconventional ways of running things. His willingness to be different and exciting eventually earned the envy of all other airlines.

“Professor” Kelleher speaking:

The speech started off with the actual professor of the class (Who is a Southwest Airlines board member) showing “Malice in Dallas” which was a spoof video about a Southwest Airline lawsuit where an aviation company threatened to sue Southwest for using the motto “Just Plane Smart.” Herb Kelleher challenged the CEO of the company to an arm wrestling match to settle the issue (seriously). The video ended up being shown world-wide and is sometimes billed as the greatest publicity stunt ever. The video was absolutely hilarious!! It really showed Mr. Kelleher’s funny side:

The entire time Mr. Kelleher spoke mainly about company culture….constantly instilling into everyone in the room just how important people are, and how if you take care of your people, they will take care of you. I’ve heard the same thing from other CEO’s, but he literally talked about it the WHOLE time…..and he’s obviously quite serious that his #1 priority is the people within Southwest. Some quotes from his mouth were:

“If you ain’t got culture, you ain’t got shit.”

“Competitors can buy tangible assets, but they can’t buy culture.”

He also just like last time lit up a cigarette soon after he started speaking. The man is notorious for loving cigarettes, Wild Turkey Whiskey and candy bars. So the day before I bought some props from the liquor store to use in the picture I would inevitably take with him!

It was actually the first pack of cigarettes I ever bought. In the Q&A session he answered questions pertaining to his many law battles all the way up to the Supreme Court (half the room was law students) and questions about how Southwest became the envy of the entire airline industry….and has become the only one to be profitable for so many years in a row.

One thing I really admire about him is his personality. The second he entered he room, he turned it from dull and quite to loud and FUN. He obviously loves having a good time, and you can see that reflected in the Southwest staff. A great example of leadership by example.

At the end of the speech I got out my Wild Turkey whiskey and cigarettes and took a great picture of me and Herb. I still get a kick out of this picture!

Then after the speech we both went to Cancun and ripped it up!!

Ok, that last part was obviously fake….but the speech was fun anyway! The guy is absolutely hilarious, smokes like a chimney and drinks like a sailor….but is one of the most famous CEO’s of all time because of his willingness to put people first and do things different.