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Flying In The Face of Competition
By Orvel Ray Wilson   Printer Friendly Version

Herb Kellaher, CEO and co-founder of Southwest Airlines, walks into the press conference wearing a golf shirt and jeans. In his classically feisty style, he blasts the Big 7 over a proposed ticket tax. He's taking on one of the most powerful industries in the world, and he's winning!

How do you fight back when you're outnumbered and outspent? Southwest does it by re-defining the competitive battlefield.

While preparing an on-site seminar for Southwest's sales and marketing team, I spent several days at their General Offices in Dallas, meeting and interviewing their key sales and marketing leadership. What I discovered was a model for guerrillas everywhere.

As an airline, Southwest qualifies for every superlative in the book. Profitable for 20 of 25 years in business, Southwest has won the industry Triple Crown (best on-time performance, best baggage-handling accuracy, and best-rated customer service) for each of the past five years. Not only do they do things better, Southwest creates a competitive advantage by doing things differently.

Everyone here is passionate about cutting costs, and passing the savings on to customers. Regional Marketing Manager Judy Haggard says, "It costs about $7 to print a paper boarding pass; people want low fares, so Southwest hands out re-usable plastic passes and boards passengers first-come-first-served. Meals average $25 a plate; people want low fares, so we serve only beverages and peanuts."

"Reservation systems like SABRE are expensive; people want low fares, so we sell tickets directly to the community." She quotes Kellaher, "It's easy to be expensive and good. It's easy to be inexpensive and shoddy. It's hard to be inexpensive and good."

When it comes to running an airline, Southwest literally re-wrote the book (read : Nuts! Southwest Airlines' Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success, by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg.)

For example, when looking for new ways to expedite aircraft turns, instead of studying other ground crews, they sent a team to observe the pit crews at the Indy 500.

The common myth that "The Customer is Number #1" has been shattered at Southwest. Here their PEOPLE are #1. The whole office routinely shuts down to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. Kellaher's management philosophy: "If you take exceptional care of your people, they will take exceptional care of your customers."

The walls at Love Field were covered with memorabilia, proclamations, and snapshots of company events ranging from award ceremonies to Halloween parties. This self-promotion creates a unique esprit de corps, which everyone here refers to as "The Southwest Spirit." It's an energy that fuels everything they do. And they do it better than anyone else in the sky.

Read more about Southwest Airlines at their web site: www.iflyswa.com

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