An Unforgettable Leader & Visionary

With the passing of Herb Kelleher, we lost a true visionary who made a lasting impact on our community and all those he touched. This sentiment is echoed by his friend Hudson B. Drake, a local aeronautics pioneer who shared his fond memories with Giving Back Magazine, “I knew Herb Kelleher since 1990 when he joined the Conquistadores del Cielo. The Conquistadores, which began in 1938, is the cream of aerospace and airline leadership worldwide.  Herb’s efforts to start Southwest Airlines and challenge the major carriers was indeed herculean in scale. He persisted for years and fought off numerous attempts to smother his dream. Southwest today is a superb example of what a person can achieve through pure commitment and hard work. The airline grew from a San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Texas carrier to its role today as the largest airline in the U.S. It has always been profitable… a rare thing in the airline world! Well done Herb.”

The Southwest co-founder had a reputation for being classically cool and a purveyor of fun. This attitude was a major component in what defined Southwest Airlines and skyrocketed them to success. His beliefs in the value of appreciating employees and customers were also groundbreaking and critical in helping the company maintain their position as a domestic airline leader. However, the early years were a bit of a rough start. Herb and his business partner, Rollin W. King, faced unyielding resistance from competitors. With faith in their vision and Herb as their litigator, they persisted. In 1971, they saw their first flight starting with routes only in Texas, but by 1982, they expanded to nearly half of the states. By sticking to their core values of efficiency and a positive company culture, Southwest Airlines has been able to sustain growth from then on.

Herb was business savvy from a young age. His mother engaged him in long, late-night conversations about everything from ethics to politics and business. These conversations were invaluable to his success as were his passion and outstanding leadership which transpired into all areas of his life. Mr. Kelleher’s life has been celebrated by the largest publications and thousands of individuals. In addition to his iconic career, Mr. Kelleher was also a dedicated family man. He is survived by his wife, three children, and several beloved grandchildren. It is indisputable that Herb left a mark on the world that will surely live on for generations to come. Lidia S. Martinez, Manager of Community Affairs at Southwest Airlines summarized it best: “Herb was one of the world’s most admired bosses and he earned that accolade! He was a pioneer, a maverick, and an innovator.  Most importantly, Herb was our inspiration.  He inspired us to work hard, to be kind to one another and to have fun at work.   When we were with Herb, he made us feel like we were the most important person in the world in that moment.  He showered us with gratitude and treated us with respect and dignity.  Our hearts are broken but we will continue to honor Herb’s legacy with our Warrior Spirit.”