“Too bad he is gone.
need more like him in both private and public life.
man of courage, ambition, ability and integrity who made a real contribution
to the industry,” said Robert Crandall, legendary former president
and chairman of American Airlines.
Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines, died last Thursday January 3 at
the age of 87.
Mr. Kelleher was a "pioneer,
a maverick, and an innovator," Southwest Airlines said, adding:
“His vision revolutionized commercial
aviation and democratized the skies.
“Herb's passion, zest for life, and
insatiable investment in relationships made lasting and immeasurable impressions
on all who knew him and will forever be the bedrock and esprit de corps
of Southwest Airlines."
The Bag Man
knew nothing about airlines, which I think made me eminently qualified
to start one because what we tried to do at Southwest was get away from
the traditional way that airlines had done business.
“I think that was very helpful."
Herb Kelleher said.
Herb was also often up front promoting the
carrier. He was pictured handing out peanuts on board flights as Southwest’s
innovative low cost, no frills service gained attention.
When a rival carrier claimed that people
might be embarrassed to be seen flying “no frills,” Herb delivered
the Southwest message in a TV commercial with a bag over his head.
“We will give you this bag for all
the money you save!” he laughed.
Mr. Kelleher served as Southwest's executive
chairman from March 1978 until May 2008 and as president and CEO from
September 1981 through June 2001.
He served as chairman emeritus at the time
of his death.
“His vision for making air travel
affordable for all revolutionized the industry," Southwest chairman
and CEO Gary Kelly said.
“But his legacy extends far beyond
our industry and far beyond the world of entrepreneurship.
“He inspired people; he motivated
people; he challenged people—and, he kept us laughing all the way."
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said Kelleher's
vision "brought the freedom of travel to hundreds of millions of
people, and his appetite for taking on any real or perceived battle was
“His style presents the ultimate case
study for airlines or any service company whereby if you take care of
your people, they will take care of your customers, which will take care
of your shareholders," Mr. Parker said.
Often clad in jeans and a plaid shirt, Southwest
Airlines during the Kelleher era was a place where every day was dress-down
Southwest, it should be remembered, began
in 1971 as a tiny commuter serving three Texas cities with four planes
and 190 employees.
Today the carrier moves more passengers
annually in the United States, than any other airline.
I recall that when Bill Boesch retired as
President of American Airlines Cargo, and we all gathered in Dallas to
salute the air cargo industry great, Mr. Kelleher entered the ballroom
and stood in the back of the gathering talking to Robert Crandall.
Herb spoke in deep resonate tones, probably
driven in no small part by his love for bourbon and cigarettes, so even
when he talked in a whisper, you could hear him from a distance.
In any case, just after Jan Meurer offered
some kind words and a giant bouquet of tulips to Bill, Herb also got up
and rocked the room.
We asked Bill to share some thoughts about
“When a great heads-of-state dies,
we have massive state funerals and flags at half mast.
“But in the airline industry when
the great pioneers pass, the ones that have developed our heritage, their
passing goes almost unnoticed, except maybe by family members and in this
case a few people at Southwest.
“Herb Kelleher was one of the greatest.
“He was a man of integrity and strong
will who viewed his employees as his most important asset.
“So it is my hope that those employees
will do something special to honor him for years to come.
“And if they do something I hope they
reach out to me to contribute in any way I can. “This industry will
miss Herb and his genius. When you were around him you couldn't help but
smile and feel good for weeks afterwards.
“Herb, my friend, may God appreciate
you the way our industry did, and if there is a airline in heaven, I hope
you are running it!”