The airline industry suffered a major blow in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001.
Faced with a massive financial crisis due to canceled flights, shuttered airports, and increased expenditures for security, several prominent airlines were forced to declare bankruptcy. Thousands of employees were laid off and labor contracts re-negotiated as airlines struggled to make ends meet.
But Southwest Airlines responded differently.
The first airline to advertise following the terrorist attacks, Southwest replaced its normally humorous advertising with a message of hope and patriotism. Featuring the voice of then-President Colleen Barrett, the advertisement reassured Americans that the company’s 32,000 employees are “pledging our allegiance to America. Nothing will keep our country or Southwest from moving ahead.”
“Colleen wanted to boldly say that our first priority was securing jobs for the people who worked for the airline at the time,” Southwest Airlines Senior Vice President Linda Rutherford told The Christian Post.
Incredibly, Southwest Airlines made a profit in the fourth quarter of 2001 — without laying off a single employee or cutting their pay.
“That is in stark contrast to other airlines that immediately opted to lay off people; we opted to keep our obligations and renegotiate our aircraft contracts,” Rutherford said. “Her interest, first and foremost, was serving our employees. The way she navigated that tragic event was a pivotal moment in the airline industry and just one example of her incredible leadership.”
Under Barrett’s leadership, Southwest became one of the country’s largest and most profitable major airlines. Today, the company has over 63,000 employees with 750 airplanes flying passengers on 4,100 flights every day. It’s also been recognized for 24-straight years as one of FORTUNE magazine’s Most Admired Companies.
A devout Christian, Barrett’s leadership style was based on the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. A fierce advocate of servant leadership, she was committed to putting her employees first, as commanded by Jesus in John 13:1–20: “Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”
Barrett explained in an interview that people often ask her the secret of Southwest Airlines’ success. “We tell them,” she said, “that it’s how we treat our people. And they say, ‘No, really, what is it?'”
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Leah MarieAnn Klett