Herb Kelleher, the founder and past CEO of Southwest Airlines, passed away this week at 87. I was 22 and in my first job out of college when I became aware of him via the book Nuts!: Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success. His approach to business—stand for something, treat your employees well, mix work with healthy doses of joy and fun—reminded me of my boss at the time, Paul Kanarek at The Princeton Review, who I’m proud to say is now my business partner at Collegewise. And it was one of the first times I imagined what I might want a company to look like if I ever started my own one day.
Herb Kelleher had a vision for a company and a service that did not yet exist. He made that vision a reality that was successful by most objective measures (Southwest is the only airline to have 46 straight years of profitability). And he staked that vision on a set of principles from which he never wavered. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone try to mimic Herb’s personality because you’ll never out-Herb Herb. But the way he approached his work and his relationships with coworkers is an illustration of leadership that any student, parent, counselor, or Collegewiser can learn from.
If you’re interested, here’s a good primer of Herb’s work, leadership, and legacy.