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The Southwest Airlines Way

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The Southwest Airlines Way

Using the Power of Relationships to Achieve High Performance


15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Up, up and away with Southwest, the airline that soars financially by paying attention to its relationships.

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Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Applicable


If you’ve wondered what’s behind Southwest Airlines’ uncommon success, wonder no more. Author Jody Hoffer Gittell lays it all out in The Southwest Airlines Way. Gittel, a university professor, explains that at Southwest Airlines, relationship building and collaboration aren’t just given lip service - they’re a condition of employment. This is an excellent case study of the airline and its competitors, wherein Gittell reveals the characteristics that make Southwest shine, traits other airlines have tried hard to emulate. She makes a compelling case for the power of relationships inside, outside and at all levels of the corporate hierarchy. Meticulously researched and offering abundant industry testimonials, this corporate exploration doesn’t feel like yet another marketing book. thinks this excellent exposition is just the ticket for corporate leaders who want to know not just how Southwest did it, but how they can do it too.


The Southwest Way

In an industry characterized by fierce competition and staggering losses, Southwest Airlines has achieved something extraordinary: it has turned a profit every single year of its existence. The company has succeeded not just by going against conventional industry thinking, but by developing and maintaining cross-functional relationships both internally and externally. Although much of the company’s legendary success is owed to Herb Kelleher, its co-founder and former CEO, the airline’s relationship-building practices are a pivotal factor that has helped Southwest become the United States’ leading domestic airline.

Southwest has succeeded despite offering short-haul flights (a more expensive proposition than long-haul flights, in cost per mile) and having a point-to-point network, which generates less revenue than a hub network. These factors require that the flight departure process be efficient and trouble-free, and that planes spend as much time flying as possible. The company conquered these challenges by creating and nurturing relationships with its key constituents.

Relationships are considered intangible assets, and executives often lose...

About the Author

Jody Hoffer Gittell, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of management at Brandeis University and a faculty member of the MIT Global Airline Industry program. Her research and teaching focus on human resources and service operations management, and she frequently presents her results to managers, researchers and policymakers.

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    G. T. 1 decade ago
    Very interesting book about how one man dreams came true. Customer service makes Southwest #1 airlines!