News from the Bush School

President and CEO of Southwest Airlines Receives McLane Award

October 04, 2013

Gary Kelly

The Mosbacher Institute for Trade, Economics, and Public Policy at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University, honored Gary C. Kelly, chairman of the Board, president and CEO of Southwest Airlines, with the 2013 McLane Leadership in Business Award on Thursday, September 26, 2013.

The Mosbacher Institute was founded in October 2009 to produce policy-oriented research in trade, energy, and good governance.  The McLane Leadership in Business Award was established by Drayton McLane, Jr., a noted entrepreneur and chairman of the McLane Group, a high technology firm.  Presented annually, the award recognizes a prominent individual in the field of business for outstanding contributions in the area of business, public service, or community service at the national level.  The award highlights different roles that business plays in maintaining the economic, political, and social vitality of our nation.

Under Kelly’s leadership, Southwest Airlines has grown into the nation’s largest domestic airline.  A twenty-seven-year Southwest veteran, Kelly has worked closely with Southwest’s legendary co-founder, Chairman Emeritus Herb Kelleher, and President Emerita Colleen Barrett to build the nation’s largest airline in terms of passengers—and the undisputed low-fare leader.  Southwest Airlines is celebrating forty years of consecutive profitability and was named #1 in Customer Satisfaction by the Department of Transportation for the year 2011.  Fortune magazine consistently lists Southwest Airlines among the world’s most admired corporations. 

Dean of the Bush School, Ryan Crocker welcomed Mr. Kelly and other distinguished guests. Professor and director of the Mosbacher Institute, Jim Griffin offere4d remarks and then presented the award along with Drayton McLane, Jr. and Dean Crocker.

2013 McLane Award

“It’s a real honor to be receiving this award,” said Kelly. “Texas A&M is a great school with great traditions.  I love and very much respect that.  You should be involved with something you are passionate about.  At Southwest, we have a history, passion, and dedicated employees.  It is a privilege to be a leader there.”

He added that he understood that he was being recognized because of Southwest Airlines. “It is a huge honor,” Kelly said. “It’s just another way to recognize the work of our people; and personally, it’s very special to me.  Texas and Texas A&M—they both share rich traditions,” Kelly said.

During his talk, Kelly focused on what he called the five C’s of leadership – communication, competence, courage, character, and caring—as well as the importance of an organization having purpose.  Kelly views teamwork critical to executing the mission or purpose. He cited President George H. W. Bush’s efforts to foster positive relations around the world prior to the first Gulf War as a ‘real testament’ to teamwork.

“If you don’t know people, you can’t get things done,” Kelly said.  “You have to have courage and competency; but above all, you have to care.  You use that word—care—when thinking about all aspects of the mission – clients, employees, investors.  When you have passion and are really good at something, the money part will take care of itself.  In the forty-two years of Southwest, we have never had a lay-off or furlough because we have the best care for our employees. Why?  Because it is the right thing to do,” he added. 

Dr. Dale Thompson, a business executive and founder and CEO of Leadership Worth Following, LLC, moderated a Q&A session following Kelly’s remarks.

In answer to a question posed in an interview prior to the event, Kelly offered the following advice to students and young professionals:  “Work very hard on relationships. Purge from your mind the idea of a boss.  If you’re confident and smart, you can do things.  You don’t have to know everything.  Learning is all about you.  Leading is all about turning that around and understanding your purpose,” he concluded.

To view the talk, visit