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Working for Colleen

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As you may know, Tuesday, July 15 marks a milestone as Colleen Barrett steps down as Southwest Airlines' President--thankfully, she will remain an Employee.  To celebrate Colleen's contributions to Southwest, we are devoting the next few days to Colleen, and we will feature some of our Blog Team's experiences with this LUVly lady. 

 

 

I always wanted to work for a company “like Southwest”. I never dreamed that one day I would be sitting in Colleen Barrett’s office as an Employee. Working for Colleen was definitely a dream come true for me, as a career “HR” person. Arguably, there is no one in American business with more direct influence on creating great places to work than Colleen.

So when circumstances led me to begin working directly for this legend of People practices, I have to admit I was a tad nervous. Could I live up to the high standard for following The Golden Rule? I anticipated my first one-on-one meeting with her like the first day of school. I had my typed list of items and was prepared to discuss each one with vigor. She welcomed me with a hug and settled into her chair. I launched crisply into my list as she puffed on her trademark Kool. She seemed distracted, and I worried that I was doing something wrong. I noticed that she had dumped her ashtray into the trash can, but I hadn’t noticed the plume of smoke rising from the can. With a swift pour from her heart-shaped coffee mug, she extinguished the source of distraction, took a sip of the remaining coffee, and was back to the business of teaching me the first one of many lessons about LUVing your Employees.

Over the past three and a half years, I have soaked up as much as I can from Colleen. She is so humble that I never felt like a subordinate … I guess that was one of the greatest lessons of all. I am thrilled that she will remain close and even more thrilled that I can call her my friend.

12 Comments
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Amen on the humility - and Servant's Heart. A couple of months back I walked into a large conference room before the last meeting had ended, and took a seat on the floor since chairs were scarce on my side of the table. A minute later, Colleen got up for a coffee/beverage refill and quietly rolled a chair from the other side of the room over so that I'd be more comfortable. She and Herb have taught us that heroes are made of the little things we can do as well as the pivotal ones. Colleen's humility, candor and sincerity have set a great example. I thought all came across in her "last word" column in this month's SPIRIT magazine. It's hard to get through it with dry eyes. We'll remain inspired as we serve future generations of Internal and External Customers!
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You are really lucky to have worked with Colleen! and Stuart, that is a really amazing story! I really wish I could have met/contacted Colleen! Colleen has been one of the major reasons on why I want to go into the airline industry when I get older (i'm about to be a freshman in high school now...) I have contacted all of the major airline executives, and I have contacted everyone except my top 3 people, Colleen, Herb, and Richard Branson.... I have gotten autographs from Richard Anderson, Bill Diffenderffer, and Fred Ried, but I really want to get an autograph from/contact Ms. Barrett, because she has inspired me! would anyone know how I could contact her? She has inspired me, because the way she talks is so caring and powerful, I've seen her talk on videos on youtube, and I feel like I am in the room with her! and I have been reading 'Colleen's Corner' on the Southwest website for as long as I can remember! anyways, good luck on wherever your future travels may take you colleen! "Either think and act big and grow smaller, or think and act small and grow bigger."-Herb Kelleher
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When I was a SWA Employee, I often asked myself, "What would Colleen do?" when handling a Customer Service question. By following her example of using common sense, good judgment, and, above all, compassion, I knew I would make the right decision. These are just a few of the things that, to me, best exemplify her genuine and generous spirit: Employee/Family photos on the hallway walls throughout HDQ Festive holiday decorations Personal thank you notes and commendation letters for jobs well done Christmas programs with Employees joining in the carols at the end Capitalizing Customer, Employee, and Leadership I will always be grateful that I had the chance to experience Colleen's Leadership. I hope the future brings her much happiness and joy!
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I have met Colleen several times at some of the chili cook-offs we have had and she has always been wonderful. But my best story about Colleen is when I sent her an e-mail (that I knew she probably would not read) thanking her for the Heart Necklace she sent me for Valentines Day. I explained to her I had a grandson that had some disabilities, one of which is he does not see anything but shapes and shadows or bright colors such as red and yellow. A few days later (3), I received a fed-ex box with a bundle of necklaces and a hand written note telling me she hoped these would help. I cried. I do not know any other company president that would take time out of their day to personally write a note and send a fed-ex with plastic necklaces in it. I meant the world to me. Thank You Colleen.
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Jeff--funny the things people remember (enjoyed this story). What I remember about our first meeting was thinking "Jeff could hold about five or six different Leadership positions (including mine) at SWA and perform beautifully in any one of them." Today, I feel the same way, except that I would revise my thought to "ten or 12" different Leadership positions. I may have taught you a lesson or two--but you, my Friend, have taught me dozens of lessons! xoxo, Colleen
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Stuart--your words brought tears to MY eyes--LUV you, my Friend. xoxo, Colleen
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Jazzy--Brian Blog Boy will send you tons of SWA "goodies" from me, including an autographed picture--but you will need to give him a mailing address. xoxo Colleen
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wow! Colleen , you will never know how much it means to me that you responded to my message! I have sent Brian an e-mail , and I want to say thank you! I actually started shaking from excitement when I read your message, and that is something I normally do not do! "Either think and act big and grow smaller, or think and act small and grow bigger."-Herb Kelleher
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In trying to choose a heading where I could post my comments, I found Jeff's, and decided that this was the BEST place for me to say a few words... This is a copy of a post I made on Tuesday under the news story about Colleen's party, but I am transplanting it over to this part of the blog as well. For those who are interested in seeing some of the pictures I took the other day, please look in the SWA Blog Flickr album for a series of pictures from "SWABlogGuy". Here is what I wrote on Tuesday: What an amazing time and what an amazing tribute to a wonderful lady! I was so privileged to be among the hundreds of Employees gathered this afternoon in the lobby of our Corporate Headquarters to pay honor to the person who has truly been the driving force behind the Culture of Southwest Airlines for so long. It is hard to describe the impact that Colleen has had on the lives of over 90,000 Employees, millions upon millions of Customers, and selfishly, upon me. If you've ever wondered if the public persona of Colleen is just hype, let me assure you that she is no different when the cameras and bright lights are turned off and it is just one-on-one. When she gives you one of her trademark hugs, you not only KNOW that you've been hugged, you KNOW that she meant it. What you see of Colleen is the real deal, and she really DOES walk the walk. Many people who are much more eloquent than me will fill these virtual pages with years and years of memories and lots of ways to describe Colleen, but in the few short years that I've known her, all I can say is that she is full of more love for others than many people are, and it would be hard to find someone who gives of themselves more than she does. Perhaps the greatest, most loving, and most revealing tribute paid is the fact that so many people at Southwest don't call her Colleen. No, they don't call her Mrs. Barrett, either. They just call her "Mom". Best wishes -- we LUV you Colleen! Kim The Artist Formerly Known as External Blog Boy P. S. To those who wonder how I would know that over 90,000 people have been hired by Southwest over the years, it is because I wasn't standing in the lobby as a visitor -- I was there proudly wearing my new SWA Employee badge with a number in the high 90,000s! 🙂
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Jeff, At my eleven year olds request, I've recently entered into the world of blogging and as a reservation sales agent for Southwest Airlines your entry stood out and compelled me to post a few words about Colleen and our wonderful company. Like you, I feel blessed to have worked for Colleen and Southwest Airlines for close to twenty years. I've spent my career as a reservation sales agent in our Phoenix, Arizona location answering the calls of our valued customers day or night. Recently I had the pleasure of attending a Southwest Airlines luncheon at the Ritz Carlton and believe it or not Colleen was there. Everyone that knows Colleen is fully aware that Phoenix in July is not one of her favorite places so as you can imagine that made her presence at the luncheon even more special. She wrapped up the event with a few simple words of wisdom in a way that only Colleen could do. Later that evening when I had a chance to reflect on my day I couldn't help but think how genuine Colleen Barrett truly is. The compassionate nature she shares with employees and customers is no joke. Come on, what other company president do you know that has their home phone listed in the phone book? Even though Colleen has stepped down as president it's nice to know she will still be around as a Southwest Airlines employee, spreading love and kindness as always. I'll end on that good note. Warmly, Lori Piper
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I worked in Reservations Hell at Southwest Airlines for six-years, six-years of my life I wish I could get back.
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I heard Colleen Barrett speak a few years ago at a Willow Creek Association Leadership Summit and was completely impressed with her leadership style and commitment to customer service as well as her employees. I am now working as a Transit Manager in Louisiana and would like to contact Ms. Barrett to speak at our annual Public Transit Association Meeting in December. Can you possibly forward my contact info along to her or let me know a way to contact her myself? We would like to do something different this year in selecting a key note speaker and feel that someone with Ms. Barrett's professional and ethical approach to management would greatly benefit the transit managers of Louisiana! Not to mention the fact that she is a fabulous speaker! Thank you very much for your assistance. Valerie McElhose General Manager Monroe Transit System