Southwest Airlines Executive, Alumna Shares Formula for Success
Date published: March 9, 2016
It’s no accident that Southwest Airlines has been profitable for 43 consecutive years.
And it’s not a fluke that Southwest has also been named one of Fortune magazine’s
most admired companies for 21 years in a row. According to Southwest's Vice President
for People Julie Weber, BA ‘91, it’s because of the people.
“One hundred percent of our success is because of the people we hire,” she told students
in the Managing Complex Organizations class taught by Associate Professor Richard
Southwest's Core Values
Weber explained Southwest’s philosophy that happy employees make happy customers who,
in turn, make happy shareholders. The cornerstone of this philosophy is that employees
Weber cited a few statistics to demonstrate the effectiveness of this policy: “We’ve
never had layoffs, even after September 11. We're lowest in customer complaints according
to the Department of Transportation, and in 2014, Southwest was the No. 1 performing
stock on the S&P 500.”
According to Weber, the key to maintaining an engaged and motivated workforce is to
hire the right people for the right job.
“The first step is that you have to know what you’re about,” she said.
And what Southwest Airlines is about centers around core values like having a warrior
spirit, a servant’s heart and a fun-loving attitude.
“Every single employee understands what it means to live and work the Southwest way,"
said Weber. "So these core values are part of every job description, from ramp agents
Hiring for Attitude
Weber’s experienced recruiters take special care to determine whether an applicant
exhibits these core values. During interviews, recruiters ask candidates a series
of open-ended, behavior-based questions designed to gather examples of how they've
responded in a variety of situations.
“We’re looking for examples of how you went above and beyond for your customers or
your fellow employees,” Weber said.
These behavior-based questions aren’t for front-line employees only. Weber personally
interviews every candidate for director positions.
“A leader’s job is to serve the team, so it’s especially important that those in leadership
positions have a servant’s heart,” she said. “So I might ask a candidate about their
team. Do they know what’s really important to the members of their team?”
Southwest’s policy of hiring for attitude and training for skill can result in situations
where highly qualified candidates are passed over because they do not exemplify the
company’s core values.
“This is a very tight labor market,” Weber said. “But Southwest has decided that we
won’t compromise on our hiring practices. It takes a lot of courage, but we stand
by what we believe will make us successful. We’re not going to sacrifice hiring for
In a recent survey, 76 percent of Southwest employees said they felt that their job
was a calling.
“This level of engagement is no accident,” Weber said. “We hire people who will view
their jobs that way.”
In 2015, Southwest Airlines received 300,000 job applications. Only 2.2 percent of
those applicants were hired. But those 6,600 people who did make the cut now get to
work for a company that truly “luvs” their employees.