‘I Feel a Responsibility to’ Southwest Employees: Incoming Southwest CEO Speaks on What Motivated Him to Take the Job

Incoming Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan has spent the past seven months transitioning to succeed Gary C. Kelly.

The evening of Tuesday, Jan. 25, Jordan gave an inside look at what it’s been like taking the helm of an airline with 54,000 employees, while a pandemic is roiling both the workforce and the global travel industry.

“You can talk yourself into, ‘You’ve got to have some great big message for them, about what’s important, where the company is headed, or whatever,'” Jordan told a sellout crowd of 850 at the Dallas Regional Chamber’s annual meeting. “But what I found is, above all, what our employees want to hear is that you understand it’s been a difficult environment. They want to hear ‘Thank you,’ because it has been a difficult environment, and they want me to listen, and they want to understand that I’m a real person.”

Jordan made the comments in a fireside-chat with friend and colleague Melissa Reiff, former CEO and Chairwoman of The Container Store. Their discussion took place on the stage of Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center.

It was the first in-person DRC annual meeting in two years.

Though Reiff and Jordan covered a lot of topical ground (Jordan’s favorite movie is Diehard — which he claims is a Christmas movie — and his favorite song is Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”), much of the substance centered on what motivated Jordan to take the job.

Jordan will assume the CEO role on Feb. 1.

“I’ve never aspired to a title,” Jordan said. “When all of a sudden, an opportunity comes along and Gary (Kelly) and the board sit you down and say ‘This is what we want to do,’ it’s hard to explain what you feel. It’s a little bit of shock. Obviously, it’s very humbling. Southwest is such a wonderful company. We employ such wonderful people and I think, above all, the immediate feeling that I had was…a responsibility to them.”

Jordan said he took the job to help the employees realize their dreams and support their families. He added that the airline’s strategy for 2022 will be to focus on rebuilding its staff and stabilizing its operations.

“You used to be able to set a watch by a Southwest Airlines schedule,” he said. “We need to get back to that.”

One eventual goal Jordan mentioned for SWA is to grow the airline from 3,000 flights a day to 5,000.

Also speaking at the meeting was Bob Pragada, President and Chief Operating Officer of Jacobs, who will serve as the 2022 Chair of the DRC Board of Directors. Pragada said he would help propel the DRC’s drive for diversity and equity in the workforce. Pragada also introduced Incoming 2023 board chairman Rafael Lizardi, Chief Financial Officer of Texas Instruments. He also thanked Michelle Vopni, Dallas Office Managing Partner for Ernst & Young LLP (EY), for her service as 2021 DRC Chair.

The event’s presenting sponsor was Jacobs. Speaker sponsor was Boeing. Platinum sponsors were EY, Thomson Reuters, and Wells Fargo. Gold sponsors were Axxess, Deloitte, Southwest Airlines Co., and Texas Instruments. Silver sponsors were The Men and Women of Hunt Consolidated, Inc. and Toyota Motor North America. Bronze sponsors were Amazon, Arcosa, Bank of America, Baylor Scott & White Health, BKD CPAs and Advisors, DFW International Airport, Grant Thornton LLP, Hillwood — A Perot Company, NEC Corporation of America, Texas Mutual, and the University of Texas at Arlington. Happy hour sponsor was PwC.