Southwest Airlines Employee Ownership Culture

Posted by Aaron Juckett, CPA, CPC, QPA, QKA on Wed, May 20, 2009
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We recently mentioned Southwest Airlines when discussing a Different Way to Quantify Your Ownership Culture. Southwest Airlines President Emeritus Colleen Barrett on the Power of an Ownership Culture discusses how employee ownership, Open-Book Management, and an ownership culture built on trust have contributed to the success of Southwest Airlines:

At any given time, 13 to 15 percent of Southwest's stock is owned by its employees through a profit-sharing plan with the option to purchase additional stock. "Employees feel like owners because they are owners," says Colleen. "Ownership is one of the things our employees are most proud of. How can you expect people to have passion and excitement for what they do if they're not owners? We've had flight attendants and mechanics leave Southwest as millionaires."

"Everything is negotiated," says Colleen. "We give employees the opportunity to criticize and question us. Southwest doesn't often need to conduct surveys or hire consultants to determine what we are doing wrong or well. The employees tell us face-to-face year-round. We have open books, we're transparent and we're all-inclusive in telling employees what's happening.

It also discusses how they hire people for their individuality, sense of humor, and potential team mentality:

"Another thing that's unique about Southwest is its sense of humor," says Colleen. "We use words that corporate America doesn't. Our stock exchange symbol is LUV. We give employees a lot of freedom. We don't want them to be cookie-cutter copies of each other. When most people go to work, they take off their personal demeanor. Then they go home and act like themselves again. We hire people for their individuality, and we want to share that with the passengers. We test for a sense of humor. We want them to laugh. We watch their interactions with others outside of the formal interview. You can train anyone to move a bag from one place to another. A team mentality is what we're looking for."

 

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Topics: Communications and Culture

Aaron Juckett, CPA, CPC, QPA, QKA
Written by Aaron Juckett, CPA, CPC, QPA, QKA

Aaron is President and Founder of ESOP Partners and provides implementation, administration, and consulting services to hundreds of companies. He is a member of The ESOP Association (TEA) and the National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO).

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