Herbert Kelleher Dead At 87


Co-founder of Southwest Airlines Herbert Kelleher passed away on Thursday at the age of 87. Kelleher incorporated the Air Southwest Company with businessman Rollin King in 1967 with the goal of creating an affordable airline service in Texas. The first Southwest flight took off in 1971 after several years of legal battles. Kelleher, who was known for his unique leadership style and employee-first approach to management, served as Southwest Airlines executive chairman from March 1978 to May 2008 and as president and CEO of the company from September 1981 to June 2001.

“His stamp on the airline industry cannot be overstated. His vision for making air travel affordable for all revolutionized the industry, and you can still see that transformation taking place today,” said Southwest CEO Gary Kelly. “But his legacy extends far beyond our industry and far beyond the world of entrepreneurship. His true impact can only be accurately measured by the hearts and minds of the people who he inspired, motivated and engaged on a daily basis.”

Kelleher was born in New Jersey in 1931. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan and a law degree from New York University. Before founding Southwest, he relocated to Texas. Kelleher was recognized for his leadership and influence on the aviation industry throughout his career, including being inducted into the U. S. Chamber Business Leadership Hall of Fame and National Aviation Hall of Fame, named CEO of the Year and one of history’s top three CEOs by Chief Executive magazine, and awarded the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy.