Herb Kelleher (1931-2014)
“Men are not ‘resources’, but an end in themselves.”
Herb Kelleher, co-founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines, is an example and model of magnanimity in business.
Magnanimity is a question of dreams, vision and mission. For Kelleher the dream is to open the airspace to the general public, to give the most ordinary people the opportunity to travel cheaply and in the best possible conditions. In 1971, in Texas, Kelleher created Southwest Airlines with this new and bold vision. At the heart of this vision is magnanimity.
Magnanimity produces originality. Kelleher is convinced that joie de vivre must be an essential part of her company’s culture. “We want our employees to be happy and feel good in their skins. The sense of humor is of paramount importance to Southwest Airlines. Employees build relationships with clients based on humor. In Southwest, candidates are hired for their sense of humor and humor is a constant, intangible principle.
Kelleher involves her employees (intellectually, emotionally and spiritually) in this vision full of humanity, simplicity, humor and altruism.
Kelleher practices the magnanimity that is the virtue of great men and the first specific virtue of leaders. He also practices humility, which is the virtue of service and the second specific virtue of leaders.
Humility is the ambition to serve. Kelleher serves his employees. He says: “The headquarters is at the base of the pyramid, not at the top. 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. Do not call it “Human Resources Department”. “Human Resources” is a concept that is reminiscent of five-year Stalinist plans.”
Kelleher practices accountability .It arouses the bold thinking of every employee in the company, starting with the technicians and ending with top management. Whoever submits an idea whatever it is, is sure to get an answer within a week.
Kelleher practices a culture of accountability and collaboration where employees demonstrate initiative beyond the scope of their day-to-day responsibilities.
“We want all our employees to be leaders. Whether they work at check-in or carry luggage, it does not matter. Everyone must set an example to others. Everyone must inspire others by his conduct. ”
Kelleher says, “We spend a lot of time making sure we hire people who have a spirit of service and who like to work as a team. We try to strengthen their esprit de corps by constantly keeping in touch with them and recognizing their merits. ”
Kelleher makes his employees leaders. He thus perpetuates the mission of his company. Continuity, like empowerment, is a sign of the leader’s humility. Kelleher does not make himself indispensable. It creates the conditions for others to finish their work. He prepares his succession.
Kelleher practices the specific virtues of the leader. He also practices the prudence, courage and justice that are the foundation of leadership.
He practices prudence (practical wisdom). His leadership principles are indeed filled with wisdom. He says: “Employees first, then customers, thirdly shareholders. Employees first, and if handled properly they will in turn treat customers properly, and customers will come back and this will make shareholders happy. It’s very simple, there is no conflict, it’s a logical and natural chain … Business schools think that there is an enigma here: who comes first? The employees ? Customers ? Shareholders ? For me the answer is clear like the moon. ”
Kelleher creates a service culture in which the customer satisfaction index is at the top of every airline in the United States.
Kelleher also practices courage. In 1971, everyone in Texas was convinced that the creation of Southwest Airlines was crazy. Kelleher had the audacity to despise the opinion of the crowd.
If daring is a manifestation of active courage , Kelleher also practices endurance, which is a manifestation of passive courage . He is patient and perseverant. For the sake of the public, it breaks airline monopolies. The monopolists rage, they engage 31 legal proceedings against him over a period of 4 years, to prevent free competition.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Kelleher maintains the line he has set for himself. He makes no compromises, despite the enormous difficulties.
Kelleher practices justice, which is a virtue of character. He gives his employees what’s due, creating a culture that puts employees first. It gives customers their due by lowering ticket prices and improving the quality of service. “The customer,” he says, “is sometimes wrong. We do not carry this kind of customers. They are told: “Fly with another company, do not mistreat our employees”.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 Southwest refuses to lay off and reduce wages. During its history Southwest has never practiced involuntary dismissals. The company prefers to limit profits only by bending job security. “We preferred to sell a plane instead of laying off staff,” says Kelleher. We have managed to reduce to 10 minutes the period from landing to boarding while the average in this area is about 50 minutes. ”
Herb Kelleher is a successful businessman. Southwest Airlines is the largest passenger carrier traveling within the US. Southwest is also the only airline that has continued to make profits after September 11, 2001. The culture of magnanimity and humility, grandeur and service, gave it an obvious commercial advantage. This culture is the result of the virtuous leadership of its founder, Herb Kelleher.