Mays Business School, November 21st, 2014
Southwest Airlines Executive Vice President Robert Jordan went straight for the heart when he revealed the story behind the company’s brand refresh. He showed a video of employees sharing stories about how they had accommodated and interacted with their customers, from saving a lost teddy bear to keeping a military family together as long as possible before the husband/father was deployed.
“Our employees’ mission every day transcends their daily duties,” said Jordan, who is Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer, overseeing marketing, advertising, network planning, revenue management, and the call centers. “It’s about creating moments that are important to our customers: $20 too high or 20 minutes too late and that opportunity is gone. What is really wonderful about Southwest is that the caring is real. It’s inculcated in our employees.”
Jordan is also president of AirTran Airways, which Southwest acquired in May 2011. The AirTran acquisition added about 20 percent to the size of the company, and the integration will be fully complete this December.
Jordan said that despite being the largest domestic carrier in terms of passengers boarded, and the second-largest in the world, having a large and loyal fan base, and having unique customer-friendly policies like no bag fees and no change fees, there had been worry that the brand had lost a bit of its edge as a maverick, and that the visual identity had not kept pace as the brand had evolved. “Compared to just five years ago, Southwest now offers international service, onboard satellite-based wifi, free live TV, and free streaming music in partnership with Beats Music.” As part of the refresh, the company decided to emphasize the core values that have made it so successful since it started in 1971, the unique connection their employees have with their customers. The new tagline, “without a Heart, it’s just a machine,” does just that. The centerpiece of the visual campaign, a tricolored heart with silver accents, is on the belly and at the door of every plane. Jordan said the airlines’ brand refresh was meant to build on the company’s proud history, not run from it. “The new branding is loyal to our past, but expresses the company we have become, and our future.”
While at Mays, Jordan spoke with groups of Business Honors undergraduates and MBA students. His presentation to the MBA students was informational, but all the students enjoyed the informal setting of the roundtable discussions.
Jordan boasted about the students’ accomplishments already – getting into Texas A&M University and Mays. “This is a very elite group of people,” he said. “It’s fun to see what a great group of leaders we have coming up.”
He told the students to always remember someone might be watching how they work. He said he has not applied for any job promotions. Instead, he was approached about every one of them.
He shared some pointers with the students:
- Work hard and be ready for whatever comes up.
- Try to work with a company that is great to work with, and where you enjoy working.
- Realize there is a lot more to life than work. Have balance.
Mays undergraduate Angela Lowak commented afterward on Jordan’s easygoing, friendly demeanor. “My biggest take away from this professional development event is the importance of sticking to what your company is known for despite potential revenue and also the effectiveness of efficiency to create revenue,” she said. “Mr. Jordan also was a good example of a humble and well-balanced leader.”
Alan Clayton called the interaction with Jordan “one of the most interesting encounters of my semester.” He said: “He had many interesting insights regarding how Southwest has made an effort to distinguish itself as the most successful airline in the world. The way he spoke about the remarkable firm made us question, ‘Well, why doesn’t every airline do the same thing?’ However, at a closer glance, it’s clear the amount of conflicting balls the C-Suite has to juggle – such as low fares, low costs, high efficiencies and high wages – is incredibly difficult and requires a uniquely effective team.”
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Categories: Executive Speakers