Southwest Airlines has a remarkably low turnover rate – just around four percent, in fact. Nevertheless, every once in a while I receive a “farewell” e-mail from a Fellow Employee who is either retiring, moving away, leaving the company to pursue an old dream or to take on a new adventure.
If you work in an office, I’m sure you’ve received one of the e-mails to which I was referring. The one where the person leaving thanks everyone for their friendship and good times, shares their new contact information, and promises to stay in touch. I don’t know why, but I have a bit of a fascination with these e-mails and a few years back began collecting them.
A couple of weeks ago, however, I received one that was too beautiful to just file away. So beautiful that I read it twice through, forwarded it to several people, and then printed it out and read aloud to my mother – fighting back tears at several points.
With the permission of its author – the lovely and charming Ms. Maureen Harbauer – here it is in its entirety. Please enjoy.
“This time marks the end of seven great years as part of the Southwest family as well as a 40 plus years off and on relationship with the airline industry. I'm proud to have finished my career here and look forward to spending more time with my husband sailing, learning the piano, gardening and playing with our grandchildren.
My journey began with the airlines in 1959, shortly after I arrived in the United States. I was hired as a Sales/Reservations specialist for Eastern Airlines, the industry certainly has changed since then - Eastern grew quickly in those early years transitioning from prop planes to jet engines. I remember calculating mileage, reconciling accounts all by hand and our inaugural flights to Miami and San Juan - truly an amazing time in our industry.
In 1964 I married Wolfgang, my "One and Only," and shortly thereafter put my career on hold to raise our three children.
I returned to Eastern Airlines in 1988. The industry was still reeling from deregulation ten years prior causing many hardships for Eastern and other carriers. In 1990 I traveled to our nation's Capitol to represent Eastern to our elected officials - a final attempt to ask for support for an airline that was in existence for 63 years. They deserved their rightful place in aviation. I'll never forget the last flight - the 11pm shuttle to Boston in 1990 - of this once great airline. I was working the ramp at LaGuardia airport. Sadly, within 30 minutes of that departure the entire gate area was transformed to represent another airline. Eastern Airlines was no more.
Next stop: Southwest Airlines. What a breath of fresh air. Several weeks training in Dallas rejuvenated my spirit. I gained an entirely new perspective of the industry. This was a time to build lasting relationships - friends with whom I keep in touch with to this day.
During my tenure as a Customer Service Agent at BWI we faced the most challenging trial of our spirits, skills, service and strength - September 11, 2001. Peers became friends, friends became family. I'll never forget the singing of patriotic songs with anyone who'd care to join in - Customers and Coworkers alike. In the days that followed, Southwest showed their commitment to their Customers, and our country. We all came to work every day - trying our best to serve. I remember flights going out with two to three passengers and how grateful they were.
My flight plan took me in 2002 to Mike Miller's office as an Administrative Assistant. With the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Safety Administration, the industry was facing a new wave of security regulation. To stay competitive, Southwest had to turn on a dime - and turn we did. Balancing the needs of our Customers with the needs of our country was no easy task.
In 2004 after a short stopover in Station sales - I landed in the Baltimore Marketing office as a Marketing Supportive Representative. Marketing is about people - spreading the message of Southwest. In this capacity I was afforded the opportunity to interact with Customers, potential Customers in ways I would never have imagined. I've been American Idol judge, Eliza Doolittle (before she became a lady), Basketball player, Spirit Jr, and yes, even a Hobo. I have attended Luau's, BBQ's and countless other events in an effort to spread SOUTHWEST SPIRIT.
This down to earth approach is really a testament to top management. Our Southwest Culture is a direct reflection of their Leadership. Southwest continues to evolve. If there is anything I've learned in my career, it is that the only constant must be change.
Thank you - friends. I'll always cherish the many relationships I've made here. The times spent spreading the Southwest message have been most rewarding. "We" - and now "You" and the positive personal relationships are what makes Southwest great.
Truly, with much respect
***To hear an interview with Maureen, visit the Red Belly Radio section of the blog and click the post titled "To Maureen with LUV."