Harvard University Case Study Southwest Airlines

Case | HBS Case Collection | September 2001 (Revised August 2004)

Rapid Rewards at Southwest Airlines

by Frances X. Frei and Corey B. Hajim

Abstract

Southwest Airlines is well known as the low-fare airline that has achieved ongoing financial success in one of the most financially troubled industries in the United States. Told from the perspectives of two Southwest customers--a frequent flier and a more typical customer--the case revolves around two customer service requests from the frequent flier, both of which provide a compelling temptation to cater to the satisfaction of the airline's highest revenue customers. The requests are intriguing because they would neither add cost nor increase the turnaround time of Southwest's service.

Keywords: Customer Relationship Management; Air Transportation; Service Operations; Service Delivery; Air Transportation Industry;


Howard Putnam

  • Former CEO:  Southwest Airlines
  • Former CEO:  Braniff International
  • Author:  The Winds of Turbulence
  • Professional Speaker
Topics:
  • Successful Strategies Through Turbulence
  • Hire Attitudes, Teach Them the Skills
  • Matching People to the Vision With Integrity & Fun
  • Transforming Organizations Successfully
Howard Putnam has experienced turbulence many times in his distinguished business career and not only survived ... but thrived by taking advantage of the opportunities for change and transformation that turbulent times offer.

As the former CEO of the highly successful southwest Airlines, Howard Putnam led the fledgling carrier through airline deregulation and the development and implementation of the "vision" that has guided Southwest to revered heights over the past twenty years.

Howard Putnam was later recruited to be Chairman and CEO of the financially failing Braniff International and became the first CEO to take a major airline through Chapter 11 successfully.  It was a Braniff that he learned crisis management while rallying 10,000 employees to new heights as the fought to save their company.  The reorganization was accomplished so efficiently the Harvard University used it as a model and wrote "The Ethics of Bankruptcy," a case study for ethically leading an organization through turbulence. 
Howard Putnam's ultimate objective is "Bottom Line Improvement." 
He believes that "People-oriented" cultures have the greatest long-term opportunity for success.

Howard Putnam is a down-to-earth and entertaining speaker.  He learned to fly on an Iowa farm as a teenager, and worked his way, over twenty years, from the bag room (leading luggage) to the boardroom of two major airlines.  He earned a well-deserved reputation for his capacity to think systematically, create a vision, build a team, define a niche, and successfully lead and manage through crisis.

Successful Strategies Through Turbulence
(Leadership)

  • Understand what business you are really in.  Develop and build a culture that supports your vision and business.
Hire Attitudes, Teach Them the Skills
(Customer Service)
  • Bottom-Line improvement begins with placing hour people first.
Matching People to the Vision With Integrity & Fun
(Culture)
  • Pick your team to match the vision and business.  Exceed customer expectations.
Transforming Organizations Successfully
(Change)
  • In turbulence, focus, resize, simplify, clarify and don't procrastinate. Organize for flexibility (flow state) and utilize the different stages of turbulence to expedite change and transformation.
"I've always appreciated Howard's honesty and ethical approach.  He shows you pathways to resolve difficulties with many constituencies during good and difficult times."

J.W. Marriott
Chairman and CEO
Marriott Corporation
 

"Howard's insistence on telling the truth even when it would have been more convenient not to is a trait that students of management, including myself, find most appealing in this day and age."

Kenneth Goodpastor
Koch Professor of Business Ethics,
University of St. Thomas
St. Paul, MN
    

"You did the best thing a speaker can do, made me look great.  Many attendees at our management conference have given me rave reviews on your talk.  Thanks again for a great show!"

Roger Rupp
Manager Business Planning
Tennessee Valley Authority
    

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