Tag Archives: Southwest Airlines

July 18, 2011 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , ,

When it comes to leadership, is “Disruptive” the new black?


Remember when disruptive was a dirty word? As in:

“Dear Mrs. Jones,

Little Johnny is bright, articulate and eager to learn. However, his disruptive behavior is a major concern, and penalizes the other 24 children in our class. Please have Johnny write ‘I will not disrupt the class’ 100 times for homework. Hopefully, this will get his disruptiveness under control.”

Increasingly, I am seeing disruptiveness categorized as a positive attribute…companies want to be known as disruptive (often in the context of innovation); leaders are hailed as disruptive. GM’s Dan Akerson recently held disruption exercises with his leadership team.

It is a radical application of common sense to see that doing “more of the same” isn’t going to get America back to work, or pull our economy out of its malaise. As leaders in Washington debate the debt ceiling and policy initiatives to stimulate the economy – in boardrooms everywhere, people are embracing disruption. They are holding up examples like Apple, Google, Southwest Airlines and Chipotle as examples of the inherent value of disruptiveness, and striving to find their own version of disruption.

When it comes to leadership, “disruptive” is the new black. Like most leadership trends, the devil is in the details. True disruptiveness can reinvent, reinvigorate and restore relevance of a company or a brand. But using the disruptive label, without substance, runs the risk of simply adding to the graveyard of overused, meaningless corporate buzzwords like paradigm shift, collaborate and alignment.

Can we disrupt the nature of corporate speak and preserve the authenticity of being truly disruptive? Only time will tell.

April 11, 2011 | cwinters | Tagged

Airplanes Shouldn’t Have Sun Roofs: The Gaping Hole in Southwest’s Reputation

I was traveling last week when Southwest made its announcement about grounding flights for inspection after passengers on a flight experienced the reason that airplanes don’t have sunroofs. Suddenty all of the pre-flight stand up comedy about safety didn’t seem so funny, as passengers blacked out while the aircraft dove to an altitude where oxygen masks wouldn’t be necessary.

Southwest has catapulted from the scrappy start up who mastered the quick turn and whose culture and cheap fares made them the airline everyone loved to fly. And they’ve enjoyed cruising on that reputation for many years. They embrace being an industry outlier – air baggage handlers proudly promote that they load free bags, for example. Will safety concerns put a chink in Southwest’s previously “bulletproof” reputation armor?

In the airline business, safety is the greens fee. And while the airline has worked hard to minimize the concerns, that very attempt to minimize the issue may be reputational suicide. I was in the airport while the “minimally disrupted” passengers were told they would not get to their destinations for TWO DAYS.

There are other indications that the reputational decline of Southwest are on the horizon. Southwest ranked 5th (out of five) in the “kindest airlines” rankings – which is based on performance data, not customer opinions.

What should Southwest do? Educate their stakeholders, in the authentic Southwest fashion. For an airline that is known for its use of candor, embracing dialogue and utilizing all channels, Southwest’s response to this situation has been decidedly by the “textbook” – straightforward statements issued via traditional means. Technical language about the “non-destructive test (NDT) in the form of High-Frequency Eddy current of the aircraft skin” doesn’t make customers feel safe. Southwest should think about how to make the technical aspects of safety accessible, meaningful and engaging. For the short term, they should balance the dialogue about free bags with dialogue about safety. And they need to keep the sunroof closed.

January 18, 2011 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , , ,

Is Executive Branding Ever Too Much of a Good Thing?

The Apple PR machine is on overdrive convincing the world that the team at Apple is up to the task of running the company without Steve Jobs. And they’re doing a pretty good job of it, in large part because they’ve weathered this crisis once before, and have the results to prove it. They’ve got the financial community on board, with supportive analyst quotes about the depth of management. And they even got a NYT story today with a headline that talks about Apple’s deep bench.

Yet an informal poll around the office today failed to yield a single member of our MWW Group news junkie team that could name a single member of theirs (other than Jobs) — even with all of the media attention around this news and the management team at Apple.

Has Jobs become so larger than life, that Apple just couldn’t be Apple without him? Is his “brand” too much of a good thing?

The tech sector is filled with iconic, branded leaders –Ellison, Jobs, Gates, Bezos. No first names, or companies, needed. Even in that crowd, the Jobs mystique is legendary – it’s hard to say whether the iPad, and its migration to an entire i-lifestyle, made Jobs cool again, or if it was the other way around. (Remember, he was actually ousted from Apple in the mid 1980s).

I think the question isn’t whether Jobs has been “over-branded.” Plenty of organizations have transitioned an iconic CEO – Welch at GE, Gates at Microsoft, Kelleher at Southwest Airlines – to name a few. All of these companies have retained strong, positive reputations. The question really is whether Apple has done enough to prepare for an eventual transition. Should members of their team have better name recognition outside of Wall Street, particularly since this is not Jobs’ first time taking a leave of absence for serious health issues?

It is my sincerest hope (and seemingly that of the Twitter-verse) that Jobs will return to the helm, fit as a fiddle. But even under the best of circumstances, he can’t stay forever.

To me the real question is whether Apple can “culture-ize” the Jobs mystique, so it can continue beyond his years of service, like Walt Disney. Or will it need to re-invent itself under the vision of a new leader, and become a new, equally successful Apple?