Back in March of 1992 Southwest’s then CEO Herb Kelleher took it to the ring to protect one of our advertising slogans in a public event dramatically deemed Malice in Dallas. The wrestling match all started when Kurt Herwald, the chairman of Stevens Aviation, sent a letter to Herb challenging him to an arm wrestling match for the rights of the phrase “Plane Smart”. Stevens Aviation and Southwest were both using the slogan in circulating ads, but neither wanted to take the issue to the courts. Herb took this chance to create a buzz in the media and heighten awareness for Southwest Airlines.
In Herb’s usual style he went above and beyond for the event. From long hours training in the gym to decking out in Southwest gear to show his Spirit, he really showed his dedication and enthusiasm for the event.
The rules were simple: there would be three rounds of arm wrestling and the individual with the most wins, not only won the rights to the slogan, but would win all the proceeds from the event for their chosen charity. Herb and Kurt expected the event to be a success as the crowd of Employees, Customers, media, and suppliers grew to 1,500.
The hype finally found its way to the ring when “Smokin Herb” and “Killer Kurt” finally came face to face for a tough battle of arm wrestling. Unfortunately, after a hard, Heartfelt fight, our fearless leader came up short in the last round. The public defeat was a tough loss for everyone, but luckily Kurt decided both companies should be allowed to continue using their slogans “Plane Smart” and “Just Plane Smart.”
No matter the outcome, the real winners in this fight were the two charities selected for the media event. The Ronald McDonald House in Cleveland, Southwest’s newest location at the time, received a donation of $5,000. Muscular Dystrophy, Steven Aviation’s charity of choice, received a donation of $10,000. Additionally, Malice in Dallas truly gave a glimpse into the Culture of Southwest Airlines and what it means to not only have a FUN LUVing attitude, but also a Servant’s Heart. You’ll always be a winner to us, Herb!