January 22, 2008
Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects - Do the Right Thing
We've all heard the success stories of the small, short-haul, Texas airline that grew out of a loophole in federal legislation to become one of the most profitable airlines in history. James Parker, the former CEO and chairman who led Southwest Airlines during the tumultuous times of 2001 through 2004, is the author of Do the Right Thing. He shares the lessons he learned from the people he worked with during his 25 years of service to Southwest.
Parker tells us that "[t]he overriding lesson I learned doesn't involve a lot of management guru buzzwords and acronyms. It is the simplest of principles, which we learned from childhood: When in doubt, just do the right thing." For Southwest, that means being dedicated to people. Both principles are embodied and reinforced in everything the company does; employees and customers respond, in kind, by showing their loyalty. For example, on 9/11, the pilots and crewmembers took it upon themselves to make sure each passenger was safe; customers responded by offering to send money or forego their refunds.
Parker tells the story of a speaking engagement in Boston. Hundreds of people packed a hotel ballroom eager to hear more about Southwest. At the end of Parker's speech, one person asked for a Southwest employee to explain why they loved Southwest. The employee "stood up and said without hesitation, 'I think I love working there because it's a company that loves you back.'"
Southwest's focus on people has made a world of difference; it shows in its income statement, in its customer service and in its employees' satisfaction. Do the Right Thing does not unveil revolutionary insights into the business world nor give you a detailed strategy to follow. What Parker does well is remind us of the important lessons that he learned along the way. It's easy to become so immersed in the present and forget the simple lessons of business: appreciate your employees, treat your customers well and have fun. Sometimes we all need a little encouragement and a reminder to do the right thing.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.