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Business and leadership lessons from Southwest Airlines

Lessons from Southwest Airlines.
Lessons from Southwest Airlines.
Eric Jacobson

The airline with the most flights in and out of Kansas City International airport, Southwest Airlines, celebrated its 40th year a few years ago.

At that time, the airline shared 40 business lessons it has learned since 1971. The lessons provide good tips for business leaders.

Here are some of the lesson highlights:

  • Invent your own culture and put a top person in charge of it.
  • A crisis can contain the germ of a big idea.
  • Simplicity has value. For Southwest, simplicity means using 737s for most of its fleet, which makes maintenance more cost-effective and allows more efficient training for flight crews and ground crews.
  • Remember your chief mission.
  • Take your business, not yourself, seriously.
  • Put the worker first. For Southwest, that meant being the first U.S. airline to offer a profit-sharing plan, in 1974. Employees now own 13 percent of the airline.
  • The web ain’t cool, it’s a tool. Southwest was the first U.S. airline to establish a home page. By 2010, boasted more unique visitors than any other airline, and ranked as the second largest travel site.
  • Get Green. That means for Southwest embracing conservation.
  • Manage permanence. Southwest knows what not to change, even when it’s managing change.
  • Keep the idea simple enough to draw on a napkin.
  • Never rest on your laurels.
  • It’s about customer service, not scalability.
  • Promote from within.
  • Recognize your luck.
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