Taking over from Southwest Airlines CEO Jim Parker last July, Kelly already had earned a good reputation … as the guy whose aggressive price-hedging snagged the air carrier cheap fuel. In 2005, Southwest pre-purchased about 80 percent of its fuel at the equivalent of $24 a barrel, less than half what the price rose to that year. This year, the airline has 80 percent of its fuel reserved at $25 a barrel.
So, Kelly wasn’t worried about money when he landed the top job. His main concern, says Kelly’s father: whether Southwest’s 32,000 employees would like him.
For Kelly, means getting the team behind you. A few examples:
- As captain of his high school football team, Kelly played quarterback but could have played any position. “He was a leader who sort of carried us along,” says one former teammate, and he was “good at helping people step up.”
- Also in high school, Kelly came to school wearing white shoes and a white belt (hey, it was the ’60s) and suddenly, all the guys wanted white accessories.
- Upon becoming Southwest’s CEO, he reached out to workers, congratulating flight attendants on their freshly ratified contract and creating a department of labor and employee relationships. His predecessor, Jim Parker, had dug in for a two-year siege with workers.
- He also cleaned up the mess of ATA Airlines’ bankruptcy, negotiating for ATA’s gates and assets at Midway.
—Adapted from “Meet the new boss,” Analisa Nazareno, San Antonio Express-News.
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