Southwest stock has made multimillionaires out of Mr. Kelleher, Ms. Barrett and many other longtime employees throughout the company. The shares, which have been relatively stagnant for years, rose 68 cents Thursday to $16.40.
Elvis, but armed?
Industry consultant Michael Boyd, head of The Boyd Group of Evergreen, Colo., said Thursday that Mr. Kelleher's renowned sense of humor could mask his toughness and dead-on managerial instincts.
"If you screwed up, you got hurt. He did wear an Elvis suit, but he had a gun in the pocket. He'll laugh, he'll joke with you, but if the job wasn't done, you were finished," Mr. Boyd said. "The Elvis suit, the motorcycle, the cigarettes notwithstanding, he was a highly focused businessman who worked on one thing -- quality of product."
Another industry consultant, Darryl Jenkins of Marshall, Va., said Thursday's move indicates Mr. Kelleher's degree of confidence with the younger executives now taking over the carrier.
"I just think it's time to pass the baton," Mr. Jenkins said. "I think that Herb is so strong that if he was worried about Southwest's future, he would not step aside. There must be some comfort zone that he's feeling that's letting him do this. I see this as a strong vote of confidence for Gary Kelly."
Mr. Kelleher had announced plans to slow down in 2001 when he gave up the jobs of CEO and president to longtime executive Jim Parker and Ms. Barrett. But the executive changes occurred shortly before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which devastated the airline industry.
"That radically changed the picture for me and the airline industry as a whole," he said Thursday. "It became 'all hands on deck.' It was a matter of survival."
Mr. Kelleher became the airline industry's point man on developing new security rules, and he led Southwest's push for changes in the federal law that restricted flights out of Dallas Love Field to protect Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
Except for those issues, Mr. Kelleher had largely disappeared from sight. Mr. Kelly and Ms. Barrett would lead news conferences, and Mr. Kelly and chief financial officer Laura Wright would talk to investment analysts. Mr. Kelleher didn't make an appearance in November when the airline had a large group of analysts and reporters at its Dallas headquarters.
"I actually have not been the face of Southwest Airlines for the past six years," Mr. Kelleher said. "Gary and Colleen have been, and they have been most successful at that."
'My joy and my love'
Mr. Kelly, 52, a certified public accountant by profession, joined Southwest in 1986 as controller, moved to chief financial officer and vice president of finance in 1989 and executive vice president and chief financial officer in 2001. He also was given the title of vice chairman when he became CEO in 2004.
Ms. Barrett, 62, became Southwest's corporate secretary in 1978, its vice president of administration in 1986, its executive vice president for customers in 1990, and president in 2001.
Mr. Kelleher called Southwest "my pride, my joy and my love," and Ms. Barrett called Southwest's employees "the most caring, most altruistic and most giving people that anyone has ever been fortunate enough to meet."
Explaining her reasons for leaving, Ms. Barrett said, "My heart tells me it is time to allow the next generation of SWA leaders their day to lead. I have always thought that one of the best traits of a leader is to know when to follow."
She said she would keep working on customer service issues at Southwest, although her formal title hasn't been set, and she wants to do more volunteer and community work.
"I am looking forward to saying 'yes' to a lot of things that I've said 'no' to over the past five years," Ms. Barrett said.
Herb Kelleher's Career Highlights
Title: Chairman, Southwest Airlines Co.
Born: March 12, 1931, in Haddon Heights, N.J.
College: Bachelor of arts, major in English, minor in philosophy, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Conn.; law degree, New York University, New York City
Private practice: Joined a San Antonio law firm in 1962, took a permanent leave of absence when he moved to Dallas in 1981
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