Business Case Studies, HRM / Organizational behaviour Case Study, Innovative HR Practices at Southwest: Can they be Sustained?

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HRM / Organizational behaviour Case Study

Case Title:

Innovative HR Practices at Southwest: Can they be Sustained?

Publication Year : 2008

Authors: Ananthi R, Doris Rajakumari John

Industry: Transportation


Case Code: HRM0043C

Teaching Note: Available

Structured Assignment: Available

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With 35 consecutive years of profitability, the Dallas-based Southwest Airlines had been the most successful low-fare, high frequency and point-to-point carrier in the US. Southwest is known not only for its innovation in operations but also for its HR practices which were nurtured by its long-standing CEO, Herbert D. Kelleher. He developed a culture aimed at fun and employee satisfaction. He also devised numerous employee-oriented organisational practices, training and motivational programs. His fun loving way of treating employees and charismatic leadership qualities made him a supreme hero among them even after he stepped down from the CEO post in 2001 and became its chairman. But in May 2008, Kelleher announced that he will step down from the post of chairman. Following the announcement, the entire airline industry is skeptical about the sustainability of Kelleher’s innovative HR practices at Southwest. The case discusses how a leader influences the HR practices of a firm with his own leadership style. It also allows for discussion on whether it is the right move for a company to follow HR practices which are highly influenced by a leader.

Pedagogical Objectives:

  • To trace out the distinguished HR practices of Southwest Airlines
  • To discuss Herb Kelleher’s role in Southwest’s HR practices
  • To analyse the positive impact of Southwest’s HR practices on its operational and financial performance
  • To evaluate a leader’s role in influencing HR practices of a company.

Keywords : Southwest Airlines, Herbert D. Kelleher, Charismatic Leader, US airline industry, Southwest’s Business Model, Best HR practices, HRM Case Studies, Southwest sprit, Motivational Programs, Innovative, Fun work Culture, Kelleher, Gary Kelly (Kelly), Coolen Barrett (Barrett), HR Dilemma


  • Southwest Airline – A Background Note
  • Southwest's Business Model
  • HR Practices at Southwest - The Key for its success
  • The Road Ahead
  • Southwest's Airlines Recognitions as of 2007
  • Southwest Airlines Employee Benefits Summary as of 2006

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