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Remembering Herb Kelleher

When Patti Nelson first applied to be a flight attendant at Southwest Airlines at the age of 19, she had no idea the impact it would have on her or how it would shape her future. Back then, it was mandatory flight attendants be at least 20 years old so she was originally hired as a ticket agent at Dallas Love Field. It was there, at the gate to Houston Hobby, that Patti first met Herb Kelleher, the co-founder and later CEO of Southwest Airlines.

photo credit: Travel + Leisure

“He came behind the counter, introduced himself and immediately started helping us calm people down since the flights were all late due to weather,” Patti said. “By the time the flights left two and a half hours later, he had everyone laughing and cutting up in the gate area!”

That was how each encounter with Herb went. From employees to clients and everyone in between, it was this wonderful personality and larger-than-life laugh of his that made you want to be a better person, care for others and take every opportunity to enjoy life.

photo credit: D Magazine, Fortune

“When I began working at Southwest Airlines, we were still a small carrier and he knew all of our names,” Patti said. “He was always in a good mood, believed in going the extra mile and made you feel like you were the most special person he had working for him.”

Once quoted in a magazine article, Herb said that if the employees come first, they’re happy, which motivates them to treat customers well so they keep coming back, which then pleases the shareholders. According to Patti, those were not mere words but how Herb actually operated.

photo credit: Austin Culture Map, Bloomberg

“He truly treated us like family and we respected and loved him for it,” she said. “Herb taught me that a simple appreciation of others goes a long way.”

It was that simple and yet significant lesson that Patti has carried with her throughout the years and that shaped her life and business.

“I try to always tell my team members that I am truly thankful for them, which I am,” she said, “and I apply that same principle to my clients.”

From taking animals to the vet to making hotel reservations and picking up sick children from school, Patti and her team believe in going that extra mile and embodying the characteristics of a boss that would make Herb proud of her.

More than just a strong business model, he instilled in Patti a positive outlook and drive to appreciate each day. Her life motto, “Today, I choose joy” can easily be credited to him.

photo credit: Los Angeles Times

“I often think about Herb, especially with all of the political correctness in the world today,” Patti said. “He always kissed you on the lips; it was truly a sincere gesture of kindness and appreciation. People should relax and enjoy life more like he did; don’t be offended so easily. All of us at Southwest Airlines that loved Herb would do anything for one more joke, one more belly laugh and one more kiss on the lips that smelled like Wild Turkey and cigarettes. He will forever be in my heart!”

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