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!
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Southwest Airlines wasn’t the first place I landed for work, and I’ve held a few titles throughout my life. Above all, the one I enjoy the most is that of mom. But for all its perks, my fellow parents know that the pressures of parenthood are enough to get to even those who are the coolest under pressure.
Parents are resilient and resourceful, and I’m sure, like me, you’ve picked up a few tips and tricks along the way (all the while scooping your kids up off the floor and marching forward). My personal favorite tip: Crayola triangular crayons won’t roll off your tray table to the back of the plane. And, knowing the resources that will be available to you at the airport—from mother’s rooms to pods to family restrooms—can help reduce some stress.
Interested in learning more family tips or sharing your knowledge with others? Check out our Family Travel Discussion Forum.
Recently, the folks in our People Department (what Southwest calls HR) put together a resource for Southwest Employees that outlines family resources for every location Southwest serves. Although this is intended to help members of our own Southwest Family, we thought it might be helpful to you, too. Of course, it’s a living, breathing document, and resources can change day-to-day, but it’s a great starting point and might help put your mind at ease as you prepare for your next trip with Southwest Airlines.
We look forward to welcoming you onboard, and we’d love for you to share your own tips and tricks for traveling with little ones in the comments.
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A few months ago, Nic Jepsen, a high school student, reached out to our CEO, Gary Kelly, to ask for roundtrip airfare to see his team’s nationally-recognized science experiment rocketed into space. At Southwest, we love to inspire students to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers (learn more here), and our Purpose is connecting Customers to what’s important in their lives. So, we weren’t surprised to learn Gary said yes. And, it didn’t hurt that the experiment involved a peanut plant. We’re partial to peanuts around here!
Behind every seat is a story. I’ll let Nic tell you about this once-in-a-lifetime experience:
Hello, I'm Nic Jepsen, a senior in high school, on the verge of starting my first year of college, where I plan on studying physics. I am into science and all things nerdy.
Last spring, I participated in a three-day space exploration science camp called Go For Launch!, hosted by a nonprofit space education organization called Higher Orbits. This was part of a national competition to create the best experiment that could be tested in space. The prize for winning? Your experiment is sent to the International Space Station. Yeah, that giant object floating around the earth.
Our experiment was testing how the levels of nitrate produced by a peanut plant were changed by a lack of gravity. Nitrate, a compound made from nitrogen, is essential for some plants to grow, and peanuts put nitrate back into the soil. The benefits were that, if effective, the peanut plant could be used as food, a producer of oxygen, and crop preparation for when we colonize Mars.
I was in shock to learn my team, the Saguaro Snakes, actually WON, and our experiment would be going up into space! Then Higher Orbits, the nonprofit organization that put this entire competition together, told us we were invited to see our experiment sent into space at the Orbital ATK launch of a NASA mission, at the NASA facility in Wallops Island, Virginia.
I was ecstatic, and so were my teammates. Then the question arose: how the heck would I get there? Wallops Island is across the U.S., and I didn't really have the means to purchase an open-ended roundtrip flight. (The reason I needed it open ended was because there is always a chance a launch could be postponed due to unforeseen complications.) I started giving up on the possibility of going, because I couldn't see any way I could get there with my family.
I decided to email Gary Kelly, the CEO of Southwest Airlines, and ask him to donate tickets so my dad and I could go to the launch. I thought to myself, “If I don't ask, the answer will always be no.”
A few days after I sent the email, I got a very personal response back from Gary Kelly, saying yes, he definitely would provide tickets for my dad and me. Not only that, he gave open ended tickets for each of my teammates and a chaperone. I was absolutely stunned that he personally replied to me! I couldn't have been happier!
The weekend of the launch, my travel on Southwest was fun and a highlight. The flight crew made me feel really important. The entire rocket launch experience was amazing! We received behind-the-scenes tours of NASA and Orbital ATK facilities, attended press conferences, and had front row seats! Actually being there was mind blowing! I first saw the engines ignite, and then it was a full 2-3 seconds before I heard and felt the ignition. Actually seeing our experiment leave the earth gave me chills!
This moment that I was able to experience has changed my life, and I am so grateful to Gary Kelly for helping me be able to go.
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The following story is by Noah Chandler, a member of Southwest's Emerging Leadership Development Program.
From the time I was a child, I sought adventure and new opportunities. That craving is what lead me to Southwest’s Emerging Leader Development Program, or ELDP. After a stint working in the insurance and banking industry, I had a decision to make. Did I want to work a job that I am not passionate about? Or did I want to step out of my comfort zone and follow my lifelong passion for adventure? I knew the answer immediately, thus beginning my job search.
I saw a post with a link to apply for Southwest’s ELDP on LinkedIn:
Southwest’s Emerging Leader Development Program, or ELDP, is an 18-month job rotational program consisting of on-the-job training, with an emphasis in Leadership Development. Throughout the course of the program, participants work as Supervisors in host locations in three of the following areas: Customer Service, Operations, Ramp, Provisioning, and Customer Support & Services. In a fast-paced environment that’s always evolving, ELDP graduates have the advantage of Leadership experience in most, or all, areas of Southwest Operations.
I didn’t entirely understand what ELDP was. They wanted someone who was passionate for leadership and adventure. These qualities sparked my interest, so I applied that day.
The process took time—I received job offers from multiple other companies as I interviewed with Southwest. Something told me to wait until I heard back. I received a call, telling me that I was selected as an ELDP participant. It was at that moment that the joy of adventure filled my life again.
The three best things about ELDP:
The People I work with are the best part of ELDP. I love working with and learning from the Agents.
It's amazing how each workgroup has drastically different needs, wants, and personalities. I’ve learned to engage each work group and be a more effective leader.
ELDP offers so many different adventures and experiences throughout the 18-month time frame. You never know what you are going to see or experience on a given day. It's a fresh, new start each day, and I love it.
The number one thing I’ve learned throughout ELDP is to lead with humility. People respect and respond to humility more than any other quality. Early on in the program I heard the phrase, "People don't care what you know until they know that you care." It is amazing what people can do when they know that their leader cares for them.
Six months into the program, I can confidently say that it has been one of the best experiences of my life. The people of I’ve met, places I’ve gone, and lessons I’ve learned are priceless. It brought back the adventurous young boy from my past. I am living my dream every day. Joining Southwest’s ELDP propelled me into a lifelong career of adventures.
Join our Leadership Team by applying for ELDP now through Aug. 14 at Southwest.com/careers. Questions? Visit our careers discussion board.
Southwest’s Emerging Leader Development Program was recognized for outstanding achievements in leadership development and programs in HR.com’s 2016 Leadership Excellence Awards:
#3 in the Best First Time Manager Program category.
#5 for Innovation in Deployment of Leadership Programs.
Dawn Siemiet, Leadership Development Program Leader, was named #1 in the Top Future Leader Award – 35 and Under category.
Julie Weber, VP People, was among the top 10 Top Corporate Leaders Over 35.
In addition to the four 2016 Leadership Excellence Awards above, Southwest is one of Chief Executive Magazine’s 2016 Best Companies for Leaders. The program also took top honors at the Association for Talent Development’s Dallas AXIS Awards, earning Best in Show, as well as first place in the Leadership Development, Succession Planning, and Talent Mobility categories.
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For the past two summers, a total of more than 200 students (who happen to be children of Southwest Employees) from across the United States have spent three days at Southwest Headquarters in Dallas attending Southwest Summer Camp. The camp is an innovative way our Campus Reach Team is building Southwest’s talent pipeline—engaging students at an early age, inspiring an interest in aviation, and providing a path to return as an intern or full-time Employee at Southwest. One student who recently followed that path is Jamie, who attended camp in 2015. When it came time to look for work, he knew where he wanted to be.
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