Herb Kelleher, an inspiring leader

Who was Herb Kelleher ?

it was said that : “Kelleher was perhaps the best CEO in America.” Herb has been called a pioneer, fierce competitor and innovator. All of those labels ring true, but Herb was more than that: He changed the world.

Un leader inspirant
One of the most beloved leaders of our time

He was a passionate character, a life-lover, an untiring wit with an contagious sense of humor, a servant’s heart and an intellectual ability that enabled him to hold an interesting conversation with anyone in any circumstance. “He was a magnificent storyteller. Animated, emotional and usually told nose-to-nose, Herb’s stories were entertaining, engaging, unforgettable, and always riddled with lessons about business and life.”

He has created a company as human as the people who make it up, and he has passed on to them his passion for work, his awakening, and his commitment that fires on all cylinders. They know they are doing an amazing and wonderful job, serving their contemporaries and building the future.

People are not ‘resources’, they must be seen as an end and for themselves

“People are not ‘resources’, they are an end in themselves”.
said Herb Kelleher (1931-2019), co-founder and former CEO of American carrier Southwest Airlines, wants to open up airspace to the general public and give the most ordinary people the chance to travel cheaply and under the best conditions.
That’s why, in 1971, in Texas, Kelleher created Southwest Airlines with this bold new vision.

The power of humor

Kelleher used to say, “We want our employees to be happy and feel good about themselves.” A sense of humor is a core value at Southwest Airlines. Employees build their relationships with customers on the foundation of humor. At Southwest, candidates are hired for their sense of humor.
Kelleher fully engages his employees. “The headquarters is at the base of the pyramid, not the top,” he says. Our job at headquarters is to produce the resources needed by those on the front line to win the battle… We have a ‘Personnel Department’, because we
work with people. So don’t call it the “Human Resources Department”.

Initiative and responsibility

Kelleher encourages initiative and a sense of responsibility
“We want all our employees to be leaders. It doesn’t matter whether they work at check-in or carry luggage. Everyone has to set an example for others. Everyone must inspire others by their conduct.”
Kelleher says: “We spend a considerable amount of time making sure we hire people who have a spirit of service and enjoy working as part of a team. We try to reinforce their esprit de corps by constantly keeping in touch with them and recognizing their merits.”

The secret of success:
Employees are a leader’s first concern

He says: “Employees first, customers second, shareholders third. Employees first, and if we treat them well they in turn will treat the customers well, and the customers will come back and that will make the shareholders happy. It’s very simple, there’s no conflict, it’s a logical and natural chain… Business schools think there’s a conundrum here: who comes first? Employees? The customers? Shareholders? For me, the answer is as clear as the moon.”
Kelleher creates a culture of service in which the customer satisfaction index is at the top of all U.S. airlines.


In 1971, everyone in Texas was convinced that the creation of Southwest Airlines was foolish. Kelleher had the audacity to disregard the crowd’s opinion.
For the public good, he broke up the airline monopolies. The monopolists were enraged, filing 31 lawsuits against him over a 4-year period to prevent free competition.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Kelleher maintained his line. He made no compromises, despite the enormous difficulties.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Southwest refuses to lay off employees or cut wages. In its history, Southwest has never resorted to involuntary layoffs. The company would rather limit profits than weaken job security. We’d rather sell a plane than lay off people,” says Kelleher. We managed to reduce the time from deplaning to boarding to 10 minutes, whereas the average in this area is around 50 minutes.”
Herb Kelleher is a successful businessman. Southwest Airlines is the largest carrier of passengers traveling within the USA. Southwest is also the only airline that continued to make a profit after September 11, 2001. The company’s culture of magnanimity and humility, grandeur and service, has given it a clear business advantage.

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