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President's Day Q and A with Gary Kelly

cmainz
Employee
Employee

Happy President’s Day!

 

In recognition of President’s Day, I was able to sit down with our own President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board, Gary Kelly, to ask him to reflect on our nation’s top job, and he shares his thoughts below. 

Q:  You recently visited the White House with other business leaders from around the country to talk about Customer Service.  What was that like?
A:  I always find Washington, D.C. inspiring.  First, one has to marvel at the architecture and the beauty of the city.  Of course, The White House is a magnificent site, steeped in history.  I have been to the east Wing of The White House, several times before, for meetings with various staff members.  This time, I actually had two meetings at two different locations on The White House grounds.  One was in a West Wing office of The White House.  The bigger meeting was in the Eisenhower Building, which is essentially on The White House grounds on the west side.  Our CEO group had a short briefing by The President, and then we met in small groups with deputy members of the Cabinet.  It was very worthwhile to meet some of the leaders of our Federal government, and a real honor for Southwest to be included.  For me, it was a real kick!

   
Q:  Which of our nation’s past Presidents do you admire the most, and why?
A:  That one is easy and predictable: Abraham Lincoln.  He was confronted with awesome challenges that he essentially had no experience from which he could draw upon.  For all to see, his many talents and his character were on full display.  He was brilliant, passionate, eloquent, moral, and principled.  Clearly, his magnificent leadership was responsible for saving our union and abolishing slavery.   And, one cannot imagine the burden he felt to wage war against fellow countrymen and suffer such enormous casualties.  He was the greatest of many great Presidents.  Last Friday was the 201st anniversary of his birth, and President's Day was adopted in February to commemorate his and Washington's (February 22) birthdates.


Q:  Do you have a favorite quote from your favorite President? 
A:  I have a couple, again, from Lincoln.  He had such eloquence, but also brevity.  One of the greatest speeches of all times was the Gettysburg Address, which was less than 300 words, and took less than three minutes to deliver.  Further, it was delivered in an age when two hour speeches were the expected norm.  I used the occasion to read up on my Lincoln history over the weekend.  I’ll offer two favorites. 
 
The first was a conversation, that was confirmed in a letter to newspaper publisher Albert Hodges.  Lincoln was consistent throughout his life in opposing slavery, but slavery was legal, and Lincoln's duty was to uphold the law.  He issued his executive order to free slaves (the Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863) but slavery was still legal.  As part of Lincoln's argument to defend his order and to change the constitution to make slavery illegal, he said and then wrote, "If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong."  It seems so simple today, but in those times, it was not only a bitterly divisive issue, but fought over with 1.1 million casualties.  Lincoln had debated slavery for decades, famously, with Senator Stephen Douglas beginning in 1854.  Finally, at Lincoln's urging, Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment in early 1865, while Lincoln was still alive, which made slavery illegal in December 1865, after the civil war was over.  I love this famous quote because it has such searing clarity, and with just eight words.
 
The second quote was part of his second inaugural address, delivered just days before he was tragically assassinated, but after Lee had surrendered his confederate Army of Northern Virginia to Grant at Appomattox.    It is inscribed in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.  The the war basically was over, but Lincoln was pressing, already, to reconcile North and South.  Brilliantly, he knew blaming the South would only prolong the bitter divide.   “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nations’ wounds, to care for him who has borne the battle and for his widow and orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
 
It is a long sentence, but an extraordinary one.  There were many who wanted to punish the southern states, but Lincoln clearly did not.  With one sentence, Lincoln said we are all Americans, and we all have honor and dignity.  I dare say, our nation would have healed and progressed much more rapidly had Lincoln lived to guide our Country through reconstruction.  It was profound and magnanimous thinking.


Q:  If you were President of the United States for a day, what would you do? 
A:  Wow, just a day!  I think I’d ride around in Air Force One and lobby Congress to cut taxes and reduce spending!


Q:  In a sentence or two, what does Leadership mean to you? 
A:  Great Leaders must be competent but also have a cause and a vision; can listen, communicate, and inspire; have strong character and are decisive; and passionately care about the people they lead.  However, given those traits, overwhelmingly, the most important aspect of Leadership is courage.  To name a few:  Courage of convictions; courage to do what is right no matter the opposition; courage to admit mistakes and take corrective action.  Clearly, President Lincoln demonstrated supreme courage.
 

 

18 Comments
Patti_F
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Thank you, Gary, for your awe-inspiring leadership. I know that if you were the President of our great nation, you would be able to turn this country around. But, selfishly, I am glad you are here with us, to keep Southwest moving ahead. Your consistent loyalty to Southwest employees is always evident, and in return, you can Count On Us to back you up. Happy Presidents' Day!
Charlie_McRae
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At least you're boosting traffic and ad clicks with all this Kevin Smith business.
Anonymous1255
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Would Southwest eject William Howard Taft from a seat on President's Day for being a Customer of Size?
Anonymous3481
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So, you post an "apology" to Kevin Smith that is snarky from the title on, and then ignore the situation by posting this? Who are you trying to fool here? May I kindly suggest that, aside from changing your policy, that you get a better PR firm?
FreqFlyer_Cross
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Good thing you're not a 'person of size'. You couldn't fly on your own aircraft.
Ed_Sandusky
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So, about Kevin Smith. Why was he kicked off? Because the armrests came down. So maybe you should try to find out why your employees decided to mess with him for no reason. SouthWest sucks, and I'll never fly you again.
Christian2
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WHY would you post this puff piece just hours after the Kevin Smith disaster? Not only have you not corrected your egregiously misinformed statements in the previous post, but you basically try and move on by ignoring that anything is even happening! Logic is your friend, people. That is, of course, unless logic is a fatty. Then they can get out.
Anonymous2022
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What a joke - a chance to ask the head of once respected Southwest why it has declared war on passengers - in this case overweight passengers who are discriminated against and humiliated even when they comply with Southwest's Customers of Size policy that would allow them to fly in one seat - and we get hokey crapola. How about addressing the fact that he had the armrests down, was seated and had his seatbelt fastened instead of continuing to beat the tired old drum of "he always buys 2 seats because he's fat, he always buys 2 seats because he's fat," which he disputes and which is his personal and private information. When are you going to be as "vigilant" about the people who jeopardize our safety with carry-ons the size of cars while your airline and your pilots look the other way. This pilot and the attendant in question seem like real winners - a prize they will have to share with your pr department.
jnield
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Back to the topic of discussion, I would like to agree that the time we have faced in recent years have shown who the true leaders in the world are and just as Lincoln was a true back in his time, Gary is certainly a leader within corporate America who should be admired for what he has accomplished while maintaining the well being of his employees, customers (despite ignorant voices of the few), and shareholders during these difficult times. That is no small feat.
Anonymous1811
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Hey Gary, Do you realize how bad you've messed up with your airlines handling of Mr. Smith? What about the second large woman? You need to fire everyone involved if you want to put this behind your company. That includes those posting false information online via twitter and this joke of a blog.
Anonymous156
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I'm not surprised you're burying your head in the sand regarding the person of size slight on Kevin Smith. I wonder how well sticking to your guns on this issue will bear out when people will not fly your airline. I think you need to remember the we are the customers, without us, you have no company. You seem to have a few bad apples, either train them, or move them away from the customers.
Rick_M
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Hey...Presidents Day food for thought... Would Southwest Airlines give President William Howard Taft he boot? Happy Presidents Day All...Ding!
jnield
Not applicable
I'd love to challenge everyone to take a look at the airlines policy on customer of size, that is if you can give your irrational hatred a quick break and maybe funnel your energy into learning about what this situation entailed and maybe what the other side of the story is. Its sad to see how when you get a bunch of people together (physically or virtually), they will blindly follow and feed off the hatred of each other without taking a second to ask, "Why?". Good luck to those who find it necessary to personally attack those making a living at Southwest Airlines for simply doing there job. You will need it.
Anonymous3596
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To Anonymous — Mon, 02/15/2010 - 20:44: I agree some have expressed undue anger, but I believe you missed the point. You righteously quote the policy on "Customer of Size" as justification for "those making a living at SWA" to embarrass and humiliate other humans. Gary should start with the behavior and motives of his his employees to insure they are indeed "spotless" before allowing them to quote the SW fat law. I believe posters are just appalled with SWA "we apologize, but did nothing wrong because he was fat" attitude.
Anonymous3596
Not applicable
To Anonymous — Mon, 02/15/2010 - 20:44: I agree some have expressed undue anger, but I believe you missed the point. You righteously quote the policy on "Customer of Size" as justification for "those making a living at SWA" to embarrass and humiliate other humans. Gary should start with the behavior and motives of his employees to insure they are indeed "spotless" before allowing them to quote the SW fat law. I believe posters are just appalled with SWA "we apologize, but did nothing wrong because he was fat" attitude.
Anonymous3540
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"You recently visited the White House with other business leaders from around the country to talk about Customer Service" did you discuss how bad an impression of customer service is given by random application of "rules" to customers who are meeting the standards of your rules such as Kevin Smith, who was seated with the armrests down and seat belt fastened, and was still publicly singled out and ejected from your aircraft? And then harassing a larger customer on the flight he was flying on later that she should buy a 2nd seat when the aircraft was not full and the seat next to her had already been purchased?
Erica4
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Presidents Day does not have an apostrophe -- and if it did, it would not be before the S, but after. The day honors and recognizes all U.S. presidents (not airline presidents and their recent White House trip -- that was quite a stretch). "President's Day" would honor one president. The federal holiday is still known as Washington's Birthday (note the difference in the placement of the apostrophe).
Anonymous77
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Fun interview! I appreciate the comment on the meeting about customer service, which is really evident when flying with you guys. It would have been nice to hear Mr. Kelly talk more about how his model of customer service could be utilized more in the government sector. The government has so many service functions that I think it could be benefit from Southwest's experience and other well known companies such as Apple, Dragon Naturally Speaking review and others. Thanks for the interview!