I learned this morning in this WSJ editorial that SW Airlines founder Herb Kelleher passed away recently.
The man is one of my heroes b/c his entrepreneurial exploits are the stuff of legends.
He built one of the world’s mightiest airlines and made air travel far cheaper for everyone despite ferocious opposition from the entrenched players.
He built a lasting company that was much more profitable than all of its peers, that was much more fun to work for, and that was famous for avoiding layoffs at all costs.
I blogged about Herb twice over the years, and both blogs are below. The man is an inspiration to anyone trying to build a business in any field.
Ms. Crabapple was a Southwest Airlines Customer who complained in a letter after every flight; she didn’t like the lack of meals, assigned seating, first class, etc. When Southwest’s founder, Herb Kelleher, saw all the letters, he penned this famous response: “Dear Ms. Crabapple, We will miss you, Love Herb.”
We love this story b/c it illuminates three excellent business lessons:
- Focus your marketing; you can’t please everyone. Trying to please everyone pleases no one. Southwest focused on fare-conscious customers only, and did not try to please upscale customers.
- Protect your employees. Ms. Crabapple abused Southwest employees, and Herb was famous for putting his employees first. This created the famous Southwest culture that in turn resulted in way better service.
- The customer is not always right. Sometimes customers and companies must part ways for the good of all b/c they are just not the right fit.
At JVM, we focus on clients and referral partners who value 24/7 ultra-premium service above all else; employee happiness and culture reign supreme; and we often have to part ways with customers who are not the right fit for JVM.
The most recent How I Built This Podcast was my favorite one yet. It featured Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines.
A few takeaways:
- He lives on cheese crackers, Wild Turkey (the booze, not the bird, but a Thanksgiving reference nonetheless), and cigarettes. And, he is now 85 and still going strong. So, take that Paleo crowd! 🙂
- He started the airline in 1967, but other airlines used political pressure to keep him on the ground for 4 years! He kept fighting against enormous odds, and didn’t give up.
- Airfares were insanely overpriced b/c the government regulated airfares to “protect” consumers. Consumers were not really protected though until airlines were deregulated in 1978, and prices plummeted.
- Herb kept his law practice on the side and worked 100 hours a week until 1981, b/c he loved what he did (and drank a lot of Wild Turkey).
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