Herb Kelleher: The Complete Interview

Here’s the best executive interview I’ve read in a long time. It took place back in 2003, but it reminds us why Southwest Airlines has succeeded where so many others have failed.
A few excerpts:
“We’ve never tried to lecture other companies as to how they should behave, what kind of environment they should try to create, because there are a hundred roads to Rome and you can get to Rome by any one of those roads. But our focus has always been on the well-being and the joy that we want our people to experience.
“I just always have felt that people should be natural in their behavior, that they should be able to derive enjoyment from whatever they do. When they derive enjoyment they tend to work together better, they tend to be more productive. One time a ramp agent wrote me, he said, Herb, I’ve caught on to what you’re doing, you’re making work fun – and home is work. Now, I’ve never repeated that to anybody because I thought that wouldn’t make me very popular in certain quarters but he did get it. And you know I don’t think that in order for people to be effective they have to act like automatons.
“We don’t hire a great many people in management positions from other airlines, but we have hired some over the years where we felt that the expertise was required as we grew. And it’s interesting to see their response because they get into the Southwest environment and for awhile they are like a new dog in town, just kind of sniffing around, because they want to see if this is legitimate, whether it’s genuine, whether it’s heartfelt. And after about six months, I would say, you get either one of two reactions: they feel liberated for the first time in their business lives and they say, “Hey, this is for real. I can say what I want to. I can joke. I can be friendly with people.” Or in some cases they say, “This makes me feel very insecure, the fluidity of it is daunting to me. I need a more structured environment than Southwest Airlines has in order for me to be comfortable.”
“one of the things that I want to tell you with respect to a mission statement is that a lot of people hire outside people to prepare their mission statements. My suggestion is that if you need someone outside your company to prepare a mission statement for you, then you really don’t know what your mission is and you probably don’t have one.
“the thing about it is that a group got together and said, We want to define spirit. And I said, I don’t think you want to do that. Because Wordsworth said, “It’s murder to dissect.” And I think it’s murder to dissect to take a concept like that and make it too narrow and make it confining and a strait jacket instead of as expansive as anybody wants it to be. So we’re not going to define it. As long as it’s a positive attitude, that’s the Southwest Airlines spirit. Don’t chain it. Don’t put it in jail.
“we’ve said we’re in the customer service business and we happen to operate an airline. But then any business is about providing great customer service to the people you serve. We just happen to be in one branch of the customer service business. And if you have a great customer service organization it doesn’t matter whether you’re flying people or selling steel or cleaning houses or whatever it might be.
“when we built this building I said give me an interior office because fundamentally bureaucrats scrap over space, which in and of itself I think should be somewhat meaningless, physical space. It’s the space between your ears that should be the important thing. So I did say, I want an office without a window, away from a corner.
Read the complete interview here.
We should all be so lucky to work with a leader like this!

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