Elizabeth Fitzsimons

Elizabeth fitzsimons and her family

Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines’ co-founder and Chairman Emeritus, said it best: “The business of business is people.” This is the basis of Southwest’s exemplary culture. Since Southwest Airlines was founded, it has approached business from the Heart always treating its employees and customers first. San Diego is filled with a diverse and dynamic people who make this city a thriving community. At LEAD San Diego, their mission is to educate, connect and inspire leaders for positive change. The driving force behind LEAD San Diego is Vice President, Leadership & Engagement, Elizabeth Fitzsimons who is creating a positive, effective and inclusive culture. Aligned with our mission, LEAD San Diego is cultivating alumni who are working in corporate, nonprofit and government settings and are investing in our community through volunteer service and philanthropy.

Elizabeth Fitzsimons

Southwest Airlines partners with many organizations by providing resources and support in the communities they serve. One such organization is LEAD San Diego, an affiliate of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. Their mission is to educate, connect and inspire leaders for positive change. Elizabeth Fitzsimons, Vice President of Leadership & Engagement for LEAD San Diego is responsible for driving fundraising, programming, board development and partnerships. On the Chamber side of things, she leads strategic marketing communications and events. LEAD helps leaders by developing programming for every career stage, board matching and partnerships with nonprofits on innovative projects that benefit the community. Their leadership programming is quite diverse including Advance, a course designed to empower and elevate women in the workplace; Impact, an immersive, 10-month program for mid-to-senior level managers; and Influence, a three-day intensive course on San Diego’s business and civic landscape for C-level and senior executives. They also have programs that focus on connecting young leaders and navigating the ever-changing world. There have been 3,000 LEAD program graduates thus far.

Elizabeth proudly plays her role to help LEAD succeed. Throughout her career – starting as a reporter for The UT, shifting to a communications role for the County of San Diego, then leading marking communications for Rady Children’s Hospital and its Foundation – she has always been driven by a desire for creating equity, opportunity, and possibility. And now, she gets to do that by helping leaders embrace their voice and potential. For example, when the pandemic started, her team quickly adapted and reinvented their programming, all while keeping their Chamber and LEAD communities informed. They not only kept the organization afloat, but made it thrive with new programs and initiatives. Since the start of the pandemic, they have produced 100 hours of virtual LEAD programming. All that takes a lot of hard work and discipline.

Two valuable lessons Elizabeth shares are to “handle your business,” meaning run towards your problems instead of running away and “show up on your own team,” or show yourself the same love and care you show others. These lessons are essential to both her professional and personal life. In addition to her roles at LEAD, she also serves as a Library Commissioner for the City of San Diego, a member of the Board of Governors for the University Club Atop Symphony Towers, and a member of the Governance Committee for the San Diego Public Library Foundation Board. She is also a mother of three and member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral.

Southwest Airlines has been a long-time supporter of LEAD and been instrumental in their success allowing them access to the country on a moment’s notice. Southwest Airlines has also been helping to fund the scholarship program and identify leaders in the community who would benefit from (and enrich) LEAD’s programming. Elizabeth shared her enthusiasm for their involvement, “Southwest Airlines leads with love and that is evident in every aspect of the enterprise, from customer service to grassroots community engagement.” We have no doubt that both organization’s efforts will continue to change the landscape of the San Diego community for the better.


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Esteban Villanueva