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MDNA Celebrity Profile: Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines) – SSA

Please note that these are unofficial profiles only and have not been verified. Description is only based upon public information and may represent either primary or secondary MDNA profiles. This profile is intended for educational purposes only to demonstrate the possibilities of MDNA for those that have been personally assessed.

Herb Kelleher


SSA (Sacrificial Service & Authority)

The SSA profile is very hard to find in popular culture—mainly because the SSA prefers to be behind-the-scenes building platforms of success for others. In fact, the SSA will often avoid the spotlight at all costs.

However, the SSA is actually designed for a servant leadership role. This profile is designed for positions of authority even though it may not be their natural preference. Herb Kelleher is the perfect example of the SSA as servant leader.

Kelleher is the co-founder of Southwest Airlines and was its president, CEO and chairman from 1982 to 2001. He is famous for leading the airline company to 30 consecutive years of profitability and producing the highest return to shareholders of any company in the S&P 500 during his tenure.

As an SSA, Kelleher’s management style says it all. When an SSA imprints their social DNA into an organization, the entire culture becomes about building platforms of success for everybody. Like Kelleher, Southwest Airlines had a reputation for hard work and high spirits. The company was voted Fortune magazine’s Best Place to Work in America in 1998 and was consistently ranked among the top 10 most-admired companies in the nation. Historically, the airline is among the most generous in terms of compensation and benefits. In 1974 Southwest became the first airline to offer a profit-sharing plan.

Every SSA is known for their willingness to sacrifice and serve others in tangible ways. At Southwest Airlines Pilots helped clean up cabins, ramp workers sold tickets, and Kelleher himself spent time loading baggage, ticketing customers, and mixing drinks on board. Statistically, Southwest employees work longer and harder than employees at any other airline. Southwest employees always went the extra mile. Stories include an employee stopping to help a stranded traveler change his tire, flight attendants visiting passengers in the hospital, and a reservation agent driving an 85-year-old woman 20 miles between airports so that she could make her connection.

Southwest union leader Tom Burnett once told the Wall Street Journal, “Lemme put it this way: how many CEOs do you know who come in to the cleaners’ break room at 3 a.m. on a Sunday passing out doughnuts or putting on a pair of coveralls to clean a plane?” (October 26, 1992).


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