Great Business Ideas: Be a Maverick in Your Industry (HERB KELLEHER)

Great Ideas for your Small Business:

Be a Maverick in Your Industry (HERB KELLEHER)

Herb kelleher, his friend rollin king, and banker John Parker sketched out the idea for Southwest Airlines on a cocktail napkin in a bar. True story.

They began with one simple notion: If you get your passengers to their destinations when they want to get there, on time, at the lowest possible fares, and make darn sure they have a good time doing it, people will fly your airline. Kelle- her, now chairman of the fifth-largest U.S. airline, said he liked the idea because he had admired the way the now- defunct Pacific Southwest Airlines pioneered cheap, short- haul service throughout California.

Doing the same thing in Texas generated a firestorm of industry opposition and a tangle of government red tape. But Kelleher fought on. In 1968, after much wrangling, the Texas Aeronautics Commission finally approved Southwest’s plan to fly between three cities. But the next day, competing airlines went to court and got a temporary restraining order against Southwest. It took three years to clear up the legal mess, but Southwest finally got off the ground.

Service began June 18, 1971. Of course, the rest is history. His formula of frequent, cheap, no-frills service has paid off. In a cyclical and often depressed industry, Southwest has been profitable more than twenty-five years in a row.

Southwest has broken so many traditions it’s tough to list them. They fly only 737s to cut down maintenance costs. By not assigning seats, they can turn a flight around in twenty minutes. Southwest’s quick turnaround time allows for more than 2,200 flights a day to sixty cities. They open the front and back doors to let people on and off faster, and they serve only peanuts and a few kinds of drinks.

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Although it flies to only twenty-five states, Southwest boasts the best safety record and youngest airline fleet in the business. Southwest was the only major carrier in 1990, 1991, and 1992 to make net and operating profits. It became a major airline in 1989 when it exceeded the billion-dollar revenue mark. “Our people were perfectly aware that our company could cease to exist at any given time,”

Kelleher told Success magazine. “In that kind of environment, you come together as a band of warriors.” To land an exclusive account with Sea World of Texas, Southwest painted a model airplane to look like Shamu, the killer whale. When the deal was signed, they painted a real plane the same way. They also painted the Texas state flag across a 737 named Lone Star One to celebrate their twentieth anniversary.

Today, Southwest Airlines is a member of the Fortune 500 and and was ranked in the “The 100 Best Companies to Work For in America” in 1993. Kelleher has succeeded in his business by setting himself apart, by being unconventional and charismatic. Although this approach won’t work for everyone, if it suits your personality and your business, why not be a maverick?