Southwest Airlines Case

The case about Southwest Airlines was a very interesting look into corporate culture and the affect that it can have on all aspects of business.  They believe strongly in having a strong, defined, and family like corporate culture.  Southwest believes that for a culture to work it must be a top down effort.  This is evidenced in the behavior of their CEO, Herb Kelleher.

Mr. Kelleher clearly wants everyone in his company to feel welcome, valued, and at ease.  An example of this can be seen in the anecdote of him dressing up like Elvis at the party.  It is nice to see that your boss does not take himself super seriously.  It is good for worker morale if the big boss is seen to not think himself better than the “little people” (though in truth it seems very unlikely that Mr. Kelleher would consider any of his employees to be “little people”.  For this and other reasons, Southwest has long been the most profitable, and most well respected, airline.  The Vice President of People (or the people division) Ann Rhodes, is worried that other companies will copy Southwest’s strategies and Southwest will lose its advantage.

Fourteen years down the line it is clear that Rhodes did not have mush to worry about.  Southwest’s “intra-attitude” became their “inter-attitude”.  Southwest’s idea of going out and doing something for the employee and then the customer has paid off in spades.  They are still the leader in the aviation field for just those reasons.  Anyone who has traveled a lot will tell you that no one takes care of the passenger like Southwest.  They have low and consistent fares, are dependable, and seem willing to go the extra mile to take care of their customers.  Southwest was not overtaken by its competitors and both the company and its CEO have received man awards in recognition of their innovative, successful approach.  Southwest is the only airline company to be mentioned in as one of Fortune’s top 10 most admired companies (they were number seven in 2009).  And Mr. Kelleher has been honored as the CEO of the year, decade, and even century by Chief Executive Magazine, Financial World, and Texas Monthly respectively.

Their familial approach to worker relations has made Southwest Airlines one of the most emulated and successful companies in the world for decades.  Why do you think it is that other airlines have not been able to copy this formula to the same degree of success?  I believe it is because Southwest did not start treating employes right just because they thought it would be a good way to make money; I believe they started doing it because they thought that it was the right thing to do.  Perhaps because they believe in it they try harder?  Could this be the reason that Southwest has lapped the field for so long and in so many ways?  What do you think?


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