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Dinner With Legends

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About a month ago this was in my e-mail box, “Dear fellow Interns, Get ready to skip class, turn off your Crackberry, dump your boy/girlfriend, get your camera charged, and get ready for some good food and an amazing opportunity to get to know two very special people. The first ever “OMG, we are Interns and we are getting to take the Senior Vice President of Culture and Communications (Ginger Hardage) and CEO, President, and Chairman of Southwest Airlines Gary Kelly out to dinner, are you kidding me??” aka “Interns: Get to Know your CEO" dinner.”


Long story short, some Interns decided to invite the amazing Leaders of SWA out for a night to spend with just us, the Interns.  And for the record, we will do whatever it takes to make this night happen.

Gary and Ginger agreed, and a date was set.  However, when the day came we were thrown a curve ball, Herb Kelleher (Founder and Chairman Emeritus)  and Colleen Barrett (President Emeritus) were coming too, and, only the Interns would be there!!  To schedule a meeting with them takes months of advanced notice, but they agreed to take an entire evening to wine and dine with us, and we asked just a few weeks out. There were no Supervisors, no planned agenda, no hype, just four amazing Leaders, 25 Interns, and an amazing night of socializing and good food.   I can’t believe I had dinner with living legends! These are the people that I see in my text books and learn about in class, and they actually made time out of their lives for Interns!  And I had this opportunity to eat with them!

We were in a small party room at a little Italian restaurant near HDQ. Our guests of honor had split themselves among the interns, one VIP per table.   When they first came in the room we applauded and stared at them in amazement. As we gravitated toward a table, every single one of us wondered, who will sit with me?!?!  I had the amazing privilege of sitting with the Legendary Colleen Barrett!!!!

I think we were all star struck. The plan was to meet at the restaurant after work, but about two hours before the day was over, Danielle (another Intern in my department) and I couldn’t even work anymore from the anticipation.  We were so jittery and excited. We couldn’t help but tell everyone who walked by our desks what we were about to do.  We kept checking and double checking our directions and the address to the restaurant. (FYI even though Danielle had a GPS on her BlackBerry, and insisted that we didn’t need any, she still got us lost, just for the record). 

As we waited at work, our minds kept drifting and wondering, is what we are wearing okay (I think that was the thought of every girl), what should we say during dinner, what should we not say, should we act differently, how fancy is this restaurant, will we know what fork to use??? 

It definitely was one of the most delightful meals I have ever had.  It was me and four other Interns sharing stories and listening to advice from a wise woman who rose to the top of the aviation world over a candle-lit dinner. Talk about intimate! She asked us questions about our experience at SWA and every comment that we gave about our experience usually brought out a true story of how that department developed or how it has evolved through the years.  I mean, this woman has seen and done it all, she knows all!  Her stories were so wonderful, and now I know I see SWA in a whole new light. 

I work as an Intern in Charitable Giving, and at one point I asked her about which organizations she personally likes to support.  She replied, “The Ronald McDonald House.”  I was surprised she gave that answer because that is the organization that SWA supports, and I was confused by her answer.  Was she answering on behalf of the Company or on behalf of herself?  As I reflected on her response, I think that is when I truly realized that, although SWA might be an airline, they are really an airline made up of real people, and real people drive the decisions of the entire Company.  She was answering for both herself and SWA, because they are one in the same.  The Ronald McDonald House was not picked by SWA because of "strategic marketing tactics," but it was picked because people like Colleen really do care about the mission and the impact the Ronald McDonald House creates in their communities.  I think it helped me to see how much SWA really cares about the people it relates with.  I think I am beginning to understand what it means when they say, “Living the Southwest Way”, it’s not just a job, it’s living and working with integrity and values, and it should be one in the same.

The night was fun.  She shared stories about Herb and about her dogs, Buttons and Blubber.  I think we really got to see how genuinely real our Leaders of SWA really are, and that is amazing to see first hand.  We could talk about anything, and we shared a lot of good laughs together.  I think I was most grateful for her advice for our future careers, especially in this time when most of us are graduating and moving on to new phases in our lives.  Colleen said, “Don’t take a job for the title or the pay, but because it is something you are passionate about.”  I’ve heard it before, but hearing it from her, and hearing it as she looked into my eyes meant a lot. (I would like to say thank you to Colleen for that.)

A big big THANK YOU to Herb, Colleen, Gary, and Ginger for spending an evening with us.  We are so grateful for everything you do for your Employees, for your Customers, and for letting us, the Interns, experience it first hand through the Internship program.  I think we have gained some serious bragging rights.  Our experience here has made us stronger as individuals and wiser in our careers.   You didn’t have to take time out for us, you could have been “busy at a meeting” or spent time with your families, but you spent it with us, the Interns.   So on behalf of all the Interns of Spring 2009, Thank you.


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