Jim Parker on Life and Leadership
Jim Parker was CEO of Southwest Airlines during and after September 11th. Some of Jim’s accomplishments during this time…..
- Only airline not to furlough employees after 9/11
- Only airline not to borrow money from the US Government’s guaranteed loan program
- Only airline to not cut employee salaries after 9/11
- Only airline to offer unconditional “no questions asked refunds” after 9/11
- Ultimately led Southwest to a market capitalization greater than the sum of the other airlines combined.
During Parker’s tenure as CEO, Southwest Airlines was named one of America’s three most admired companies, one of America’s 100 best corporate citizens, one of the world’s most socially responsible companies, and worldwide airline of the year.
Jim told Leadership Freak he stumbled into business at the invitation of Herb Kelleher, the co-founder of Southwest Airlines. It was a trip that landed him in the CEO’s chair in June of 2001, just three months before 9/11.
Leadership Freak (LF): What did you learn about business while at Southwest (SW)?
Jim Parker (JP): Just how important people are. Remember, I went to SW in 1979. Back then, for most companies, people were a depreciable asset. They could be used up and disposed of. Business leaders weren’t talking about corporate culture and saying things like, “employees are our most valuable asset.” Even today, for some, these are just politically correct words that aren’t put into practice. SW embraced those ideas long before they became popular.
“I have a growing appreciation for how important people are to the success of any company.”
LF: What was it like leading through the crisis of 9/11?
JP: I can tell you it felt like I didn’t smile for two years. (He chuckled while he continued) And I enjoy smiling. Like the rest of the country, I was resolved to overcome.
LF: What helped you succeed?
JP: Success isn’t about being a hero. It’s about going to work every day, loving your job, loving your company, loving your fellow employees, and loving your customers. Do that and you will have strength to survive in bad times.
Our success is a case study in the “round world theory.” What goes around comes around. Just keep doing the right thing and it comes back to you. Employees that love their jobs and love their company create customers that love your company. Employees that hate the boss and hate the company create customers that hate the company.
LF: What’s the most frequent advice you give leaders?
JP: The advice I most frequently give is:
- Be yourself
- Follow your passion
- Don’t set artificial goals for yourself. Don’t set goals about the job you want or the amount of money you want to make.
- Whoever said success is about the journey and not the destination was right.
I asked Jim what he was doing these days and he replied, “I’m working hard not to work.” He continues to speak at events and for major educational institutions. He’s also on the board of a couple large corporations.
How can leaders and organizations express the value proposition that people are their most valuable asset?
Jim’s book: Do the Right Thing: How Dedicated Employees Create Loyal Customers and Large Profits.
hey I love who you connect with and how you freely share it. I’d be filling my pants talking to someone like this! Very interesting just in terms of the airlines success anyway, but to understand it is driven from a passion for people and a love of your work is hugely heartening. Thanks again, i’m of to Maazon to get the book.
Thanks for the good word. You are so right.
One component of Southwest’s culture is the idea that individuals can make a difference. In other words, individuals/people are important. I’ll call it a culture of permission. They give everyone in the company permission to make a difference.
You gotta love it.
What an inspiring, refreshing message to read today with my morning coffee, Dan. So glad you interviewed Jim and shared these nuggets. I love that fact that makes “success” so accessible to everyone because he doesn’t couch it in loft terms. It’s also nice to hear the emphasis on people, and SW certainly lives up to these values. Thanks for a great post, Dan!
Thanks for the good word Meredith. My readers may not know that you were one of the earliest commenters on Leadership Freak. Thank you.
You captured an important part of Jim Parker. He’s not into fancy catch phrases and wowing you with “deep” leadership principles. He’s straight, clear and focused. He’s not trying to impress anyone. I think he practices the advice he gives others, “Be yourself.”
Great interview, Dan!
I love the “round world theory.” It makes so much sense I think most people miss it! But it’s leadership: How you regard your employees determines how they regard the customer—which determines how customers regard your company.
I’m heading over to your facebook page to see more!
I salute Jim Parker and his simple ideas that led southwest airlines to the helm of success. I have read the case study of Southwest Airlines by HBS. It is really fantastic. Be yourself is classic idea of authentic leadership and it is a trully stong foundation of any leadership. Refund without question is so real and simple that it is hardly practiced in organisations. I think, great efforts and ideas are simple but execution is perhaps very difficult and somtimes impossible. And those who execute, succeed. I suppport, appreciate and believe all the four ideas of successful leadership. They are interconnected and lead to next. One can not be passionate if one is not real. Real goal are achieveable and exeggerated goal only deceive you and organisations. The most importat, success is journey, not destination.
I think leaders and organizations can express the value proposition that people are their most valuable asset by follwoing recommended four leadership ideas. Not only as a policy document but on execution level. When leaders pretend to be authentic, people come to know the facts. So, rather than claiming to be authentic and real, leaders should show and express their actions in authentic manner, and that is the real examples. Focussing on needs of stakeholders is very important. But Employees are core to focussing on stakholders need. When they act in alignment with philosophy of the organisation is authentic manner, value proposition will be the outcome.
Jim Parker is really on to something. “round world theory.” What goes around comes around. Just keep doing the right thing…
Right on. Leadership is so much about people and so little about widgets.
I enjoyed this post!
Coincindentally, I just finished reading the book “Highest Duty” by “Sully” Sullenberger, who piloted the plane that had the famous “Hudson River Landing.” In his book, he talked at length about 1) loving what you do 2) appreciating the people who are your customers and coworkers (he was chastised by management and almost put on administrative/punitive leave because he held a plane an extra 3 minutes in order for standbys to fill 2 available seats – everyone else was more concerned about meeting the “departure time” goal than getting the customers satisfied) and 3) the dangers of cost savings at the expense of safety (when his first officer was desperately searching for the right checklist for “dual engine failure,” before the plane ended up in the Hudson, he lost valuable seconds because the airline had, to save money, stopped putting “tabs” on the notebook pages so he had to flip through each page individually). It was a compelling book with timeless lessons about personal choices, integrity, and the inherent value of people. (Link to the book: http://www.amazon.com/Highest-Duty-Search-Really-Matters/dp/0061924687)
This interview echoed many similar sentiments. I especially concur with: Employees that love their jobs and love their company create customers that love your company. Employees that hate the boss and hate the company create customers that hate the company.
Good tip on the book Paula, thank you will follow is through. Richard
It is a good read! I listened to the audio version, which is primarily done by a narrator. But the end section, which Sullenberger presents personally, is a great touch.
Jim Parker has tasted the admiarble success with right good things in its place under his leadership. There are very few companies who actually treat their people as human assets. Such organizations are really caring and treat them equally even in difficult times.
I love Jim’s statement as ‘Success isn’t about being a hero. It’s about going to work every day, loving your job, loving your company, loving your fellow employees, and loving your customers’. Self-commitment, passion and employee satisfaction are the keys to success.
Fair management and good HR practices make employees loyal and drive them to work-hard and deliver expected results. Truly speaking, it is the CEO who drives the organization in the right direction by taking people along in offering the best value to end customers. Organizational effectiveness will be the means to reach the destination.
I am keen to possess his book and have the detailed readings.
Your interview is proof that if you treat people right and genuinely try to do the right thing that good things can come of it. I do not know a lot about Jim Parker and look forward to more that you have on the fb page but I can imagine that he is just a good guy trying to live right and cares about what he gets involved in.
Can you imagine how many ‘successful’ companies there would be if they: “Hire for attitude, train for skill” And one other of Mr Parker’s tenets about teamwork immediately includes ‘fun’. Great stuff, will join Croadie at the Mazon and then jump over to FB to read the rest o’ the story! Thanks Dan!!
OK, OK so I cant tpye! 🙂
Shoot man, thought it was short hand, am going use it anyway! 😉
Hangin’ at the Mazon!
This is a beautiful interview. Imagine if we injected more love, more humanity. Parker and SWA helps us see what it could look like. Thanks Dan for getting this out into the world! In my Valentine’s post I pay homage to SWA and the like and talk about the love equation for success. I hope you enjoy. http://brillianceinc.com/secret-to-legendary-leadership/
Great Post Dan. I also am off to get the kindle version of the book. We have over 1200 employees at the HC and have long appreciated the value of our staff. 2 years ago we instituted our Brand Ambassador Program wherein 100 staff members were identified, selected, and voted on by their peers, HR and operations. We held open houses in all of our satellite locations recognizing these “owners” of the company. This program is ongoing and has led to other initiatives such as the Spirit of Excellence Service Training. I could not agree more with the concept that happy and satisfied staff beget happy and satisfied customers. I don’t remember (again) who said it but a CEO was once asked why they were spending so much time and resources on employees when one did not know if they were staying and the response and I am para-phrasing was, “How about if we don’t invest in them and they stay!” (I am sure you and Doc will know the author) I love the “round the world” idea stated by Jim Parker. Thank you for taking the time and effort to share this interview with the LF community. Thanks, Al
Love your BAP Al (sorry had to go to the acronym, need one for Dan’s Ka- ching too!) Your ambassadors are the champions of the organization and have official and unofficial sanction to advance the organization. My previous work site developed a Service Excellence program tied to internal and external metrics and that one continues to grow. Will be morphing it here soon.
BTW, I have seen your quote in a couple of places Al, Mel Kleiman amongst others…
Thanks for the info Doc, appreciate as always your input. Regards Al
I strongly believe in the concept of finding the right “pace” for a company. One you are comfortable with, that your team perfectly embraces and believes in.
Through rough times, there’s no need to change the cultural and entrepreneurial values building this pace, you can make a few adjustements but keep working in your usual way, waiting for the rough times to pass.
Sometimes a lack of immediate success doesn’t mean your plan is flawed.
great interview! We fly southwest all the time!
I figured how important people are to a leader and an organization very early in my military career. I had the prime support mission for the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade in Alaska. The brigade was everywhere in the state training and when they trained, my people supported them – often in small groups of two or three (many times just a single individual had to do it all). Most of the time units would be in several locations at once; I couldn’t be there. I had to rely on people to do what they were supposed to do. I could train and set an example; but still, people had to do their job. Over time I gained just as much confidence in those people as they gained in me to be behind them when needed, support them in hardship and to just do the common sense thing – be as fair as possible. Everybody deserves the best their management team can provide – all you as a leader has to do is put forth the effort.
It is SO refreshing to rediscover the beauty of leadership. Dan, I’m new to social media — blogging and Twitter in particular — and didn’t know what I have been missing. So appreciate finding you (or I guess you found me and brought me into this wonderful fold) and returning like the Prodigal Son to what has been the heartbeat of my ministry over the years.
Over a 20+ year pastorate, the message people tell me they still remember was one of the simplest — Trust God, Do The Right Thing, and Live in Grace. My dad was a Presbyterian minister as well and would say if we can just get down loving God and loving our neighbor, everything else would kind of fall into place. Don’t always know what the right thing is and don’t always know what the most loving thing is. But most of the time, common courtesy and valuing people the way you would want to be valued really does work for personal happiness.
Thanks again for music to the soul.
Sorry Chuck the comment below was meant for your post. thanks Al
All I have to say to your refreshing post is Amen. God bless AD
I wish many organizations were as passionate about not just customers but staff as well. It is 100% truth that if employees are not happy and treated well by a company (excluding internal motivational variables) then they will not give 100% to their jobs and their customers and it shows. It would be great if we loved our companies and our jobs. Management can do alot in inspiring people to love their jobs. When people love their jobs customers then are treated with value and respect and they keep coming back and recommending others as well to use your services and goods. What does around does come around!
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