At Southwest Airlines' annual meeting in its hometown of Dallas a couple of weeks ago, founder Herb Kelleher retired after 37 years. The day of the meeting, a full-page ad appeared in USA Today thanking Herb for his devotion—paid for by the pilots union.
Across town, the same day, another Dallas-based airline, American, had its annual meeting. It was picketed by a clutch of its pilots union members.
Asked repeatedly about his success secrets at SWA, Kelleher has always had the same and sole reply: "You have to treat your employees like customers."
As many point out, it's a little more complicated than that. I'd hardly disagree. On the other hand, I know Mr K reasonably well, and I am convinced that he is dead serious, and that the spirit encompassed by his one-line answer is, indeed, the airline's most prominent point of differentiation. I remain to this day repeatedly surprised by the regularity with which my typically businessclass-flying friends praise Southwest, starting always with employee attitude.
Three, or 37, hearty cheers for Herb Kelleher—and for the pilots union as well.
(I am directing you to another Special Presentation previously posted: "Putting The Customer Second." You may recall that we had a hot and heavy discussion when I took this topic on.)