James Parker on Doing the Right Thing at Southwest Airlines
Insights from the former CEO of one of America’s most admired companies.
January 11, 2008
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People matter most, we all know that. But most companies would rather slash costs, cut headcount, replace well-paid employees with lower-paid employees or outsourced workers, and reduce customer service. In the wake of 9/11, Southwest Airlines was faced with a disastrous situation that threatened to ruin not only their business but the entire airline industry. In response, Southwest Airlines made three pivotal decisions: no layoffs, no pay cuts, and no-hassle refunds for any customer wanting them. The result: Southwest remained profitable, it was the only major airline to protect the jobs of all its employees, and Southwest's market cap soon exceeded all its major competitors combined. James F. Parker served as CEO of Southwest Airlines during that tumultuous period. In his new book DO THE RIGHT THING, Jim shows why "doing the right thing" by your employees and your customers isn't just na "feel-goodism: it's the most powerful rule for business success. His decisions grew naturally from Southwest's culture of mutual respect and trust. Parker offers deeply personal insights into that culture, demonstrating that it's really not that hard to Do The Right Thing! James F. Parker served as CEO and vice chairman of the board of Southwest Airlines from June 2001 through July 2004, three of the airline industry's most challenging years. During Parker's tenure as CEO, Southwest Airlines was named one of America's three most admired companies, one of America's 100 best corporate citizens, one of the world's most socially responsible companies, and worldwide airline of the year. He is a member of the MIT Leadership Center Advisory Council at the MIT Sloan School of Management. A lawyer by trade, he spent fifteen years as General Counsel of Southwest Airlines before being selected to lead the company. He is currently a member of the board of directors of Texas Roadhouse, Inc. In this week's "You've Been Spotted" segment, Kevin Lee asks participants in AMAs seminar "Leadership Skills for Supervisors" to describe their core values as leaders.