July 1, 2018
I took a couple days off to rest my mind and body but it didn’t work! What did happen is that I dreamed about my many memories and friends from Southwest Airlines. When I woke up the next morning, I wrote down my thoughts without hesitation.
At a lunch with Herb Kelleher, co-founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines, and Colleen Barrett, his longtime assistant and later the first woman president of a major airline, I asked “What’s gonna happen to Southwest when you two aren’t around?” They proceeded to teach me about “Servant Leadership” and the process used to perpetuate the culture. Colleen told me that Servant Leadership “is really just the golden rule.”
I fondly remember hiring “booth bait” in the 1980’s for our National Business Aircraft Association trade shows. The bait was good looking Southwest Airlines flight attendants to hand out our literature. It worked! Men would hover around our booth, waiting to get some of the handouts. I am not sure we ever got any business but at least we had plenty of people in our booth!
I fondly remember delivering a Boeing 727-200 painted in the Southwest paint scheme in the 1980’s. Yes, Southwest Airlines operated two Boeing 727-200 aircraft for a short time. To celebrate the “on time” delivery, we held a reception that included a cake with a miniature Boeing on it. Herb cut the cake and even gave me a kiss on the cheek for a job well done! Lots of fun filled memories. I still have a photo of this event. I have another photo of Colleen Barrett sitting beside me wearing a KING AEROSPACE flight scarf that our crew members had to earn the right to wear.
I remember hiring one of Southwest’s first mechanics at Associated Air Center. I can only remember his first name, Tony. According to the late Jack Vidal, the first Vice President of Maintenance at Southwest, he hired Tony because he couldn’t get rid of him. Jack said that Tony was a youngster attending a trade school getting his aircraft A&P License (Airframe and Power plant) outside of the state of Texas and routinely called him asking for a job. Jack said he kept telling him that as a startup airline Southwest only wanted experienced people and they were not going to hire him or anyone else right out of school. Southwest had a couple of experienced mechanics on the payroll at the time even though they had not yet obtained any aircraft. Jack said Tony continued to call despite the fact that he was not nice to him on the telephone.
Jack said that one day he walked out of his office into Southwest’s small single hangar at Love Field and there stood a young kid who looked like a mechanic who had put on a tie and slacks for the first time in his life. Jack said the young man approached him and said he was there to talk about going to work for Southwest. Jack said he then realized that this was the kid who had been bugging him on the telephone. Jack said he was not nice to him even though he felt bad that the kid had wasted his money on a flight to Dallas from out of state. Jack said he sent the kid on his way and then returned to his office. After a while, Jack walked back into the hangar and was shocked to see Tony with his dress shirt off, bent over a jet engine in his undershirt helping the two mechanics. Jack said he got upset and said “What are you doing here? I told you to leave!” Tony explained to Jack that his flight home didn’t leave for several more hours and the two mechanics looked like they could use an extra set of hands. Jack could not believe what he heard and saw. He told Tony to come into his office and he gave him an application. Tony was one of the first Southwest Airlines employees hired and did great financially with his stock benefits!
Before I hired Tony from Southwest, he told me that he talked to Herb before making a move. This impressed me and probably helped me understand the importance of treating employees like family members and always wanting the best for them in their career choices. Several years later Tony went back to Southwest and again said he talked with Herb before moving again.
I was honored to have been a guest of Jack and his wife Tiny when he was awarded the very first “President’s Award” at one of the earliest SWA Celebrations.
Not too long ago it was reported to me that Herb bought a souped up hot rod Cadillac. While at the dealership picking it up, he was greeting customers with passion. This is in his DNA; he is a natural goodwill ambassador.
My most heartfelt memory of Southwest Airlines was a Southwest Airlines Culture Committee meeting I attended. I shared with Colleen how much I wanted to emulate what they had done. She told me that I was already a lot closer to emulating them than I realized. I was shocked and hoped that she was right. I am so very proud that my mentors would greatly influence the KING AEROSPACE culture from afar.
I will never forget getting to have lunch with Bud Mantz, who designed the Southwest aircraft paint schemes. He told me that he wanted something bold that would cause people to identify the Southwest fleet of three aircraft. Bud went on to say that during a court hearing when Southwest was fighting for survival, the Judge said “You mean that you only have three aircraft? Every time I look up, I see one of your airplanes!” or words to that effect. Bud said that it was the greatest complement he received and that it confirmed that he accomplished his design goal. Bud also shared with me that he designed the Muse Air logos as well.
There are so many more wonderful memories to share as a direct result of my encounters with the Southwest family. Daily in my Addison Home Office, l look at the model of a Southwest Airlines 737 that was given to me by Herb and Colleen for my birthday. It serves as a reminder of what great things can be accomplished with the right values, love, passion and at times a few tears. God bless my friends at SWA, with “LUV.” Thanks for the sweet dreams!
Written by KING AEROSPACE Founder, Jerry Allan King-Echevarria.