Was Herb Kelleher one of the most beloved corporate executives ever?
Since Southwest Airlines co-founder Herb Kelleher died Jan. 3, 2019, employees and customers alike have visited his Legacy obituary in startling numbers.
Hundreds of condolences have been left in Kelleher’s Legacy Guest Book so far, most of them by past and present Southwest employees thanking their down-to-earth boss for creating one of the best working environments around. “Kelleher was called Herb by his employees as he treated them like family,” the obituary reads, and the extraordinary display of sympathy shows just how true that was.
“My deepest sympathies for Herbs family and all of the SWA family. Herb was such a great example of camaraderie between coworkers and between work groups. Of course if he showed up on a flight he would pass out peanuts and talk with everyone, customer or coworker we were all made to feel like we were part of the team. What a character, Herb we ‘luv’ you and will miss you. There will never be another like you.” —Lisa Tresner, Stansbury Park, UT
Kelleher co-founded Southwest Airlines in 1971 in an effort to offer something no other airline did. His fares were designed to be affordable to people who couldn’t have managed airline travel otherwise. His flight crews were allowed to have fun with their jobs and entertain their passengers. He inspired employee happiness and loyalty with frequent praise and celebrations. He empowered his employees to be compassionate and caring when they dealt with the public.
“Your core beliefs are what led me to southwest airlines. I am forever grateful!” —George Krall, Wesley chapel, FL
Throughout the Guest Book, you can see photos of Southwest employees side by side with Kelleher. In almost all of the photos, the employee is getting a hug from Kelleher — it was just what he did. Southwest was known as “the love airline” — even choosing “LUV” as their symbol on the New York Stock Exchange — and Kelleher showed it all the time.
“I remember my first day of work as a contractor at SWA. Herb walked up to me and gave me a big hug and kiss. I thought this man must have mistaken me for someone else. When I got to my new manager’s office, I told him about it. He responded ‘Oh, that’s just Herb, he does that to everyone.’ And from that day on whenever I would see Herb it was like seeing an old friend. My sincere condolences to the family, friends, and SWA family. Herb will be greatly missed!” —Rita Evans, Dallas, TX
In our almost 20-year history here at Legacy of providing Guest Books for notable newsmakers, we’re not sure we’ve ever seen such a tremendous outpouring of love for a corporate executive. It’s all the more proof that Kelleher really was someone special.
“Herb was a great man!!! He’ll truly be missed by EVERYONE. Being a 25yr employee of SWA I knew him back when the company was smaller and he was the same then as he was now. My prayers are with you Joan, Michael, Ruth & David.” —Dana McCann e25635, Aubrey, TX
Kelleher designed a business model that kept his airline afloat even when others were floundering in the post-9/11 era. And he did it while valuing everybody, from executives to flight attendants to customers. It’s quite a legacy to leave.
“Herb was the very best CEO ever. His genuine love for the SWA Family is a huge part of his legacy that lives on in each of us. He taught us that everyone and every job is important, that titles don’t define the person, and that hard work with a light heart can be fun and very rewarding. Herb was larger than life but had a humble heart. I will never, ever forget the love and acceptance he showed me personally. Thank you, Herb from the bottom of my heart!” —Debi Mayes, Waxahachie, TX