February 01, 2010


The President Emeritus Proves that Being Nice Can Lead to Success

Southwest Airlines Jump

The Golden Rule is evident everywhere at Southwest Airlines, from CEOs to employees to customers.

“We hire for attitude and train for skills,” said Colleen Barrett, speaking to second-year TCU MBA students at the Dallas headquarters of Southwest Airlines. “Our number one customer is our employees. We provide an enjoyable environment, the tools to do their job, respect, an open give-and-take, and we listen. Our people are clearly our best asset.”

“Walking through the hallways at SWA it was instantly apparent that the place is abuzz with a family oriented culture,” said TCU MBA student Zach Skelton. “Upon stepping inside, it felt comfortable and apparent to even the most casual of observers that the employees truly enjoy working there.  Then we had the privileged opportunity to hear Colleen (she wouldn't allow anyone to refer to her as Mrs. Barrett) reflect upon her years at Southwest and describe how the culture evolved into one that most companies strive for but rarely achieve.”

Barrett and several other executives discussed Southwest’s Leadership Expectations. They live and work the Southwest Way: with a warrior spirit, a servant’s heart and a fun-loving attitude.

“The only time we are arrogant is when it comes t our jobs,” said Barrett. “We have hundreds of applicants for one job because people want to work here, they want to be part of something bigger and better.”

“Colleen exudes a sense of motherly love for her employees and refers to each and every one of them as her children,” said Zach.

She spoke about the start of SWA and how she and Herb Kelleher had absolutely no knowledge of the airline industry going in. But it was the warrior sense, loving attitude and golden rule approach to management that made Southwest into the successful organization that it is today. 

“Her stories of overcoming the many obstacles they encountered in the beginning really allowed us as students to realize that an opportunity may be around any corner, and that determination and the desire to succeed can overcome any hurdle,” said Zach.

Barrett also answered questions. Students asked her about technology challenges since 9-11, how she became a lifetime member of the union (by treating labor groups as part of the family), and if there was an event in her life that made her so passionate about people (her mother instilled in her the Golden Rule).

“It was exciting to see and hear someone with her character, demeanor and personality who is so successful and connects with people,” said TCU MBA student Eva Graham. “This is not something you typically see in a business setting. It was affirming to me that I can be successful and thrive if I find the right environment.”

TCU MBA student Daniel Graham said that when he researched the company and Colleen to prepare for the visit, he saw videos of her talking to classrooms full of hundreds of MBA students at a time.

“We were so lucky that Graduate Career Service Center arranged for us to come here to Southwest,” he said. “All 18 of us got to meet and talk to Colleen, have our picture taken with her and have our questions answered in a very personal way, and she’s one of the top business leaders in the world!”

Southwest Airlines Colleen

The trip was part of the Graduate Career Service Center’s newest program, Neeley Connections. TCU MBA students travel to corporations to meet with executives and recruiters. They visited FritoLay in the Fall, and future trips are scheduled for Ericsson (February 19), Lockheed Martin (March 26) and DFW International Airport (April 16).

For more information about the Graduate Career Service Center, click here, or call 817-257-7119.