As we celebrate our birthday this week at Southwest Airlines, here’s another example of how we’re doing great at 48: our fearless Leader, Gary Kelly, has been named the highest-rated airline CEO on Glassdoor’s list of Top CEOs! Winners are determined based entirely on employee feedback shared anonymously on Glassdoor over the past year.
To celebrate his spot at No. 35 on the list, here are 35 fun facts about Gary:
When Gary first interviewed at Southwest, the offices were in the East Terminal at Dallas Love Field. They were under construction, so he was led through plastic tarps to his interview.
When Gary was hired at Southwest Airlines in June 1986, the required drug test had just been implemented. Gary was the first person to take a drug test as part of the hiring process at Southwest.
Gary began his Southwest career as Controller. He’d later serve as our Chief Financial Officer and Vice President Finance, then Executive Vice President and CFO, before being promoted to CEO and Vice Chairman in July 2004. Gary assumed the roles of Chairman and President in 2008. In January 2017, Gary relinquished the title of President.
There were no computers at Southwest when Gary was hired. Well, there was one, but it belonged to another Employee. When he left, Gary took his computer.
When he was a teenager, Gary was certified to scuba dive and wanted to be an oceanographer.
A loyal alumnus, Gary’s favorite sports team is the University of Texas Longhorns. Confirming this, he has a football in his office signed by former UT coaches Darrell Royal and Mack Brown.
Gary was recently named to Brunswick’s inaugural list of the Top 100 Connect Leaders, a mark of distinction among nearly 800 S&P 500 and FTSE companies analyzed. Check him out on the list, coming in at No. 11!
Gary’s hero is Abraham Lincoln.
Gary’s favorite cities for vacation? Santa Fe and Destin!
The movies Gary lists as all-time favorites are Lonesome Dove, Dances with Wolves, and It’s a Wonderful Life.
Gary’s favorite Broadway show is Phantom of the Opera.
Gary was the quarterback for his high school football team—the San Antonio Churchill Chargers. He also was the quarterback his freshman year at the University of Texas at El Paso, before he transferred to the University of Texas at Austin.
Gary has played the guitar at the Grand Ole Opry-Ryman Auditorium, with John Conlee. If he could play with anyone else, he’d love to play with the Eagles.
The best advice Gary ever received was, “Never give up.”
The advice he loves to give is, “Work hard, treat everybody with respect, and have a good attitude.”
Our beloved founder, Herb Kelleher, and Gary shared several uncanny parallels. For one, they have the same birthday—March 12.
Gary’s teen idol was Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach.
An astronomy buff, Gary loves to spend time looking at the stars through his telescope.
Gary reads a lot—and it’s rarely a business book. His favorite novelists are Larry McMurtry, John Grisham, and Lawrence Sanders.
Carol, Gary’s wife of almost 43 years, was his eighth-grade sweetheart.
When he first met her, he thought she talked too much.
Gary and Carol were born in the same hospital in San Antonio … one day apart.
Gary is 6’3” tall. When Carol’s mom first met Gary, she thought he was standing on a box.
When they graduated high school, Gary and Carol were neck and neck … but she graduated ahead of him!
Gary and Carol have two daughters, Caroline and Lizzy, and four granddaughters, who call him Poppy.
Gary grew up in a family of all boys.
As an avid outdoorsman who enjoys hunting and fishing, Gary loves to browse Cabela’s.
When traveling, Gary prefers to carry on his bag.
Gary likes an aisle seat and usually sits toward the back.
Southwest goes big for Halloween. Gary’s costumes have included Gene Simmons, Captain Hook, Frankenstein, and Jack Sparrow.
Gary's biggest source of pride is the fact that Southwest Airlines has never had a single layoff in the airline's 48-year history.
Gary is a history buff and enjoys reading about leaders throughout history.
Before he worked for Southwest, Gary traveled a lot for work—so much so, that he often relied on muscle memory. Once, he went to his usual gate and boarded a plane “home to Dallas.” Unfortunately, there had been a gate change, and he ended up in New York.
Gary believes the biggest challenge for any organization is Teamwork. He often refers to the airline business as the ultimate Team sport.
Gary is No. 35 on Glassdoor’s list and No. 1 in our Hearts!