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Southwest Airlines: LUV

The President of Marymount University Matthew Shank laid out a key to business success at the Arlington Chamber of Commerce annual meeting this month:

Love your staff

Love your customers

Love your community

And you will prosper

In my work transforming business culture, Shank's message is one I'm hearing from many, sometimes surprising quarters.

I was just at a trade show for sports clubs--not exactly a touchy feel bunch. Hotelier and keynote speaker Chip Conley's message: During the recession, his focus on staff happiness caused his company Joie de Vivre to thrive while other boutique hotels died.

It all starts with culture, he let the audience know. Great culture leads to happy staff. Happy staff leads to happy customers. And happy customers are what make you thrive.

But what does it mean to embrace a core value like love in the workplace?

Among those that embrace the happiness advantage is Southwest Airlines whose stock exchange ticker symbol is LUV. CEO Gary Kelly says their core value LUV is the secret behind forty (40) years of consecutive profitability.

At a recent conference I was at, Kelly shared a story to shed light on how Southwest thrived during the recession while many airlines were filing for bankruptcy.

While competitors were slicing and dicing flights to find more ways to charge you fees, Southwest Airlines decided two bags fly free. What was the impetus behind the decision? Surprisingly, it was not happy customers. It was happy staff.

Southwest Airlines knows budget-conscious customers bring bigger, more stuff able check-on luggage to get around pesky baggage fees. And that means attendants lifting heavy bags into overstuffed bins. It means delayed flights. And it means mad customers. Not a recipe for staff happiness.

When passengers were feeling the pinch of an industry visited by Ebenezer Scrooge, Southwest shared the bags fly free LUV with creative ads like the one above.

Free bags served the company's core value: LUV. In CEO Gary Kelly's words, "We put our employees first. If they are happy, the customers will be happy."

Dr. Shank ended his keynote to the Arlington Chamber inviting local businesses to "Get on the Love Train." His invitation is a mark of the changing tide of business.

This blog by Alicia Korten was first published by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.

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