1 Lesson to Learn

So I like to joke that I write a lot of this blog posts on plane flights; this is my first post written on a bus. (I’m on a bus from Buffalo to Toronto for talks there tonight).

But, so you’re not too surprised, the content will come from an in-flight airline magazine.

I was on a Southwest flight last night and read through their in-flight magazine, Spirit. It’s one of the ones I prefer; usually it has some interesting articles in it.

This one turned out to be particularly good; Southwest is celebrating their 40th anniversary as an airline, so it’s a special double-sized issue and has some pretty good articles in it (including a funny interview between past and present presidents of the organization).

Anyway, what I wanted to write about in this blog post was an article in this issue, “40 Lessons to Learn from Southwest Airlines.” These are my favorite business articles to blog on: articles where a business tries to define or explain how and why they are/have been successful.

Here’s the first five “reasons” for Southwest’s success as an airline:

1. Keep the idea simple enough to draw on a napkin
2. A legend is an asset.
3. Hire a good lawyer.
4. Raise more money than you need. Now double it.
5. Crazy is no liability.

Now, some of these are a bit tongue-in-cheek, and I don’t have an issue with that. Southwest likes to present themselves as a fun-loving, caring company; I think that’s great. But “hire a good lawyer” and be crazy? These are keys to success?

Other examples, more along the lines of what I usually see (“common-sense” type arguments) where: “Lack of money makes you frugal,” “Recognize your luck,” and “Remember your chief mission.” All of which sound nice, none of which will guarantee success for your business.

But I kept reading, and finally, coming in at 33 (of 40) I found a real cause for success:

Three thousand flights a day. Almost 35,000 Employees. Eighty-eight million total Passengers carried in 2010. Net income half a billion. Five hundred forty-eight Boeing 737 jets… Southwest has tried to use its size to its advantage, partnering with an increasing number of causes as it grows, helping to fight cancer, diabetes, AIDS, muscular dystrophy, and other illnesses. The LUV Classic golf tournament has raised more than $11 million for Ronald McDonald House Charities…

Awesome; a real cause for success. Then I knew how Southwest was able to grow and maintain profitability when every other airline is failing. This was a real cause for success. Much better than, “Listen to advice, then celebrate it.”

There were other reasons that I saw as well for Southwest’s success, which are again, standard business practice: they share their wealth with Employees (they always capitalize it to try and maintain their awareness of their importance) and make taking take of the Passengers their number one concern–these are all good karmic seed business practices.

But I like the commitment to charity the best; to be financially successful, that’s the one lesson to learn.

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6 Responses to 1 Lesson to Learn

  1. ed says:

    This interesting for Southwest, the best airline in the US. Most of the other airlines scrimp and shove customers down the line of importance as thought they are ‘in the way’ of the business. Every flight I have experienced with Southwest I have noticed a definite customer first feel and have always enjoyed flying with them. Not so other US airlines. Thank you Southwest for thinking of others, its inspirational.

    ed xx

    • ericbrinkman says:

      They had lots of other stories in the magazine about how a pilot or crew put a Passenger first; some of them were quite moving. For example, there was a story about how the pilot held a flight so that a Passenger traveling to see a dying relative made the flight.

      I was thinking that might be the real cause for why they often come in as #1 in on-time flights…

  2. mike says:

    I love lessons 3 and 4. (Lawyers and $ are no-brainers) And an absurd consequence should always fit onto a napkin-so dummies like me can steal them.

  3. mike says:

    I meant 2 and 5- the legendary and the crazed. Powerful seeds.

  4. Pingback: Flywheel Effect (Part Two) | Business Worldview

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