Herb Kelleher, co-founder of Southwest Airways, dies at 87


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DALLAS (AP) — Not many CEOs gown up as Elvis Presley, settle a enterprise dispute with an arm-wrestling contest, or go on TV sporting a paper bag over their head.

Herb Kelleher did all these issues. Alongside the best way, the co-founder and longtime chief of Southwest Airways additionally revolutionized air journey by virtually inventing the low-cost, low-fare airline.

Kelleher died on Thursday. He was 87. Southwest confirmed his demise however didn’t point out the trigger.

Within the late 1960s, the nation’s airways have been a clique of venerable corporations that supplied onboard eating, films and different facilities to make flying nice however dear. Fares authorised by federal regulators made air journey a luxurious that few might afford.

Kelleher was a lawyer in San Antonio in 1967 when a shopper, Rollin King, got here to him with the thought for a low-fare airline that may fly between San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Kelleher guided Southwest by way of a thicket of authorized obstacles thrown up by different airways, and the brand new provider started flying in 1971.

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Southwest stored prices low. It flew only one form of airplane, the Boeing 737, to make upkeep less complicated and cheaper. It gave out peanuts as an alternative of meals. There have been no assigned seats. It operated from less-congested secondary airports to keep away from money-burning delays.

Southwest turned a revenue in 1973 and hasn’t suffered a money-losing yr since — a streak unmatched within the U.S. airline enterprise.

Kelleher grew to become Southwest’s chairman in 1978 and CEO in 1982, as federal regulation of airline costs was disappearing. He led the corporate by way of its interval of biggest progress. As Southwest entered new cities, it pressured different airways to match its decrease costs. Federal officers dubbed this “the Southwest Impact.”

At this time, Southwest carries extra passengers inside the US than any airline. Whereas critics say Southwest has come to resemble the larger carriers that it as soon as fought in opposition to, it created a mannequin of streamlined operations, low prices and decrease fares that spawned comparable airways all over the world.

If Southwest was totally different, so was its garrulous CEO — a wisecracking chain smoker who bragged about his fondness for Wild Turkey bourbon whiskey.

Kelleher was so outgoing that it might take him ages to stroll by way of an airport — he appeared to cease each few ft to speak with workers and passengers. He had a booming snigger, a bottomless trove of anecdotes, and a lawyer’s exact means with phrases.

Kelleher confirmed a aptitude for wacky advertising and marketing antics. When Braniff tried to drive Southwest out of enterprise by undercutting its fares — costs that ensured each airways would lose cash — Kelleher supplied a bottle of liquor to anybody who purchased a full-fare Southwest ticket. Kelleher mentioned that enterprise vacationers with expense accounts and a thirst for booze made Southwest the largest liquor distributor in Texas for a time.

When Southwest and a smaller aviation firm each claimed the identical promoting slogan, Kelleher proposed to settle the dispute by holding an arm-wrestling contest with the opposite CEO. Kelleher, clenching a lit cigarette between his tooth, misplaced the match, however the victor — impressed by the publicity the stunt generated — let Southwest preserve utilizing the tagline.

As Southwest added service to extra cities, executives of different airways — and a few of their passengers — dismissed Southwest as a cattle-car operation for affordable vacationers. Kelleher answered with a TV business through which he wore a paper bag over his head and promised to provide the bag to any buyer who was too embarrassed to be seen flying on his low cost airline.

The TV advertisements and the Elvis costumes helped make Kelleher the general public face of Southwest and doubtless probably the most acknowledged particular person within the airline trade.

In 1999, at age 68, Kelleher was recognized with prostate most cancers. He stored working, commuting between Southwest’s Dallas headquarters and a hospital in Houston, however the incident added urgency for a succession plan.

In 2001, Kelleher stepped down as CEO and president, and he retired as chairman in 2008. Even after leaving, he remained on the payroll and went to the workplace commonly.

In a 2011 interview with The Related Press, Kelleher mentioned his proudest achievement was that Southwest — in an trade that minimize tens of 1000’s of jobs within the decade after 2001 — by no means laid off employees.

In a press release Thursday, Southwest mentioned, “Herb was a pioneer, a maverick, and an innovator. His imaginative and prescient revolutionized business aviation and democratized the skies.”

T. Boone Pickens, the oilman and fellow legendary Texas enterprise determine, tweeted, “Herb Kelleher is arguably probably the most transformative determine and character within the historical past of recent aviation. He’s the epitome of the can-do entrepreneurial spirit.”

Herbert D. Kelleher was born in Haddon Heights, New Jersey, and acquired his first job — for $2.50 every week — ensuring that copies of the Philadelphia Bulletin newspaper have been delivered. He graduated from Wesleyan College and earned a legislation diploma from New York College in 1956.

Kelleher is survived by his spouse, Joan, and three of their 4 youngsters.


David Koenig may be reached at http://twitter.com/airlinewriter

The Related Press contributed to this report.

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