When we think of Southwest Airlines’ leadership, Herb Kelleher comes to mind. But how about Lamar Muse? He played a vital role during the early days.
Southwest Airlines is a significant player in the US airline market. The Dallas-based carrier has given its competitors a run for their money for years by offering low fares, point-to-point service, and quick turnarounds. However, the airline’s history is full of challenges, proposed seating concepts, and very creative leadership who had the ‘faith’ that being different would set the airline apart.
Southwest Airlines has generated impressive operational numbers despite the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2019its’s net income was $2.3 billion thanks to more than 134.1 million revenue passengers. A solid load factor of 83.5% helped generate an annual record total of $22.4 billion in operating revenues.
The carrier operates a fleet of more than 740 Boeing 737 aircraft consisting of:
|737 Max 8||34||175|
Southwest serves 103 destinations across the United States and ten additional countries.
Before there was Herb Kelleher
The UK has Richard Branson. The United States had Herb Kelleher, who cofounded Southwest Airlines and Rollin King. He was outgoing, personable, and creative, but he wasn’t the only leader to creatively grow the business. Lamar Muse played an essential role during the carrier’s early days.
Although he came from an accounting background, the excitement of the aviation industry eventually beckoned Muse to his first aviation job as treasurer (later vice-president) of Trans-Texas Airways (TTA). His next role was as assistant vice president of corporate planning for American Airlines. In 1962, he became vice president and chief financial officer of Southern Airways in Atlanta, Georgia. He returned to Texas in 1965 to serve as chief executive officer (CEO) and president of Central Airlines. Two years later, Muse left to be president and CEO of Universal Airlines in Detroit, Michigan.
In 1971, Kelleher and King hired Muse to help get their fledgling carrier, Air Southwest, off the ground. As CEO, he applied the creative leadership approach in previous aviation roles and convinced the co-founders that Southwest Airlines sounded better. The leaders agreed, and the name change took place.
Shortly into his tenure, Muse worked on developing new strategies and meeting potential investors such as Wesley West. In 1971, Muse met with the Texas oil baron and philanthropist who wanted to invest $750,000 ($5 million in today’s numbers), providing a couple of stipulations were met.
A push for faith and a heavenly view
One of West’s suggestions was to change the company’s name to Faith Airlines. Since Muse had already convinced Kelleher and King that Southwest Airlines resonated better than their original concept, he quickly sidelined that idea. While that suggestion was never adopted, West’s other input was considered.
The investor proposed that Southwest Airlines offer special seating that would ‘rise above’ any first-class options. The view would be ‘heavenly.’ West suggested the carrier purchase a Boeing 707 for this role. Cutting a hole in the top of the fuselage would allow for installing a clear, pressurized chamber sized for just two passengers. The idea was to give these two seats a view unlike any other onboard.
While one would think that Muse would outright reject the idea, he approached West’s suggestion by stating how much of an engineering challenge that might be and suggesting Boeing would need to get involved in the conversation. The idea never took off (pun intended), and the investment money never came to fruition.
Muse pushes ideas of his own
Although Lamar Muse passed up on Wesley West’s input, the seasoned aviation leader was able to push forward some of his own ideas. These included offering a free fifth of whiskey for passengers who paid full-fare tickets. Muse also capitalized on the airline’s “love” theme by hiring flight attendants whom the New York Times described in a 1971 article as “the most shapely girls in the air”. These young ladies wore tangerine-colored uniforms, a far cry from the “heavenly” approach Westley West wanted the airline to follow. Love is still in the airline with Southwest Airlines!
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