Bob Jordan, Southwest Airlines’ CEO, on What Went Wrong

Your unions say that for years, Southwest has been too focused on investors and hasn’t invested enough in the operation. What’s your response to that criticism?

I’ve been asked a lot about whether we have antiquated technology. We spend a billion dollars a year on technology here at Southwest. And, like every company, there are always things that are brand-new, like our maintenance system, and there are always things that you’re working on.

We have a really good operations improvement plan. Crew scheduling is a big part of that. If you just look back at the last year, we put, I think, eight new versions of SkySolver in. We’ve hired 120 crew schedulers. We put leadership over crew scheduling and realigned ourselves. I’m not saying for a minute that we’re done or that that’s enough.

On the shareholder question, it’s not a singular decision. We are financially very healthy. And because of that, we don’t have to make choices between investing in technology or investing in our shareholders. During the holidays, we went to premium pay, we offered gratitude pay, we did gestures of good will for our employees, just like for our customers.

How do you regain the trust of your customers?

We’ve got a 51-year history of operating a really good airline and having terrific service. That didn’t change just because we had this event.

That doesn’t dismiss the fact that we messed up. I think the best thing that we can do is use this event as a catalyst to be even better. This is a great company, but the best thing we can do for our customers is continue to provide a great product, invest in our product. You’ve seen us do all those things — we’re adding power ports and larger bins. Keep investing in them, keep running a great operation, keep providing terrific hospitality and be even better.

Can you help us understand when you knew things were going really wrong around Christmas?

We plan days and days in advance for storms, hurricanes — all those things. We watch the operation every day; our leaders are on many calls a day just to understand how we’re doing. I’m on multiple calls a day, on a normal day. All that was going on.

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