Homegrown: Colleen Barrett, President and COO of Southwest Airlines
Q: Is it true that Mr. Kelleher, knew nothing about the airline industry, and started Southwest on a "lark" when he was in his thirties?
A: His entrepreneurial spirit led him, while he was an attorney, to develop an idea with Texas businessman Rollin King for an airline that would operate within the state of Texas. It would be more affordable than car travel, save business travelers countless hours of travel time and present a convenient option for millions who had never experienced it. Their work to establish Southwest began in 1967, but the airline would have several legal hurdles to overcome before it would take flight on June 18, 1971.
Q: Can you tell me a bit more about the story of Southwest handing out fifths of liquor to passengers?
A:Southwest's competitors continued to wage fare battles after the carrier took to the skies. All hell broke loose in February 1973 when Braniff placed a full-page ad in the Dallas newspapers announcing a three-month "Get Acquainted" sale which would fly Braniff passengers from Dallas to Houston for $13(half of Braniff's and Southwest's regular fare.) Braniff thought this latest scheme might put Southwest out of business once and for all. Then-President Lamar Muse came up with a counter strategy that became one of Southwest's most famous ads in its history. It read: Nobody's Going To Shoot Southwest Airlines Out of the Sky for a Lousy $13. It announced that Southwest would match Braniff's fare of $13 OR Southwest Customers could pay full fare ($26) and get a free bottle of premium liquor free. The promotion worked, and for those two months in 1973, Southwest became the largest distributor in Texas of Chivas, Crown Royal and Smirnoff!
Q: How did you come to be the President and COO of Southwest?
A: It certainly wasn't a career goal! I had a wonderful mentor in Herb Kelleher, and because of that, I was able to ?be there? when issues came up or when a creative solution was needed . I grew within the organization (as we encourage all our Employees to do), and I am one of many, many leaders at Southwest who have been ?home grown? to lead the airline and its 34,000+ Employees through the challenges of the next millennium. I?m honored to be in this position, but I can?t say it was part of my professional blueprint!
Q: What is the ?secret? to the success of Southwest?
A: Southwest?s business model is predicated on low costs. We have low operating costs that allow us to offer our Customers low fares. Our ?secret? is really no secret at all. We treat our Employees well, and they in turn serve the Customers well. That revenue stream makes our shareholders happy, and it?s a proven cycle of success. Our Employees share many values, and one of them is having a manic eye toward keeping our operating costs low because they know we need low costs to remain profitable and offer low fares.
March 2004 O.K., so we are not out of the woods yet, in fact, we might want to start thinking about acclimating to that environment…learning to live with the "lions and tigers and bears, oh...
Analysts expect all other major carriers and low-cost airlines to report losses, though regional carriers, which fly on behalf of other airlines for set fees, remain in the black.