Start With Why: Southwest Airlines

Post by Sydney Lucas

Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” is famous amongst business leaders – after all, in his Ted Talk, he gives companies and their respective leaders the recipe for success laid out on a silver platter:

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Sinek introduces a concept called the Golden Circle, pictured below, stating most businesses work from the “outside – in,” trying to advertise and sell the product first, compared to successful businesses who lead from the “inside – out,” selling why they are inspired to do things before telling consumers what they sell.screen-shot-2017-02-07-at-10-58-01-amSinek cites successful examples like Apple, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the Wright Brothers as leaders who were able to inspire others to “buy” what they were “selling” – whether it was a product or a dream – because they believed in it, and other companies like TiVo who failed because they were unable to rally consumers to their cause.

Another great example of a business that sells “why” they do something is Southwest Airlines. Southwest Airlines is one of the most profitable airlines in America, with almost 100 million passengers each year, even turning a profit following 9/11 when most other airlines suffered.   Why?PNGPIX-COM-Southwest-Airlines-Logo-PNG-Transparent.pngBecause they had a loyal following of customers who believed in what the company stood for that they were willing to support them even in the toughest financial times for the industry.

Almost 46 years ago, Southwest Airlines was founded with the intent to offer inexpensive flights. But, as Kirk Barbera notes in his article “Simon Sinek’s Start With Why Shows What Distinguishes Great Business Leaders,” that was what Southwest offered. But Southwest “did not succeed merely by offering inexpensive flights; after all, Pacific Southwest tried the same approach, yet failed.” What was Southwest Airlines’ why?

To recognize the common man.

When founder Herb Kelleher was asked about his competition, he didn’t list other airlines. In fact, he said they competed against the car and the bus. This was because, at the time he founded Southwest, airplanes 58012cda99c55.image.jpgwere for the wealthy, and Southwest’s true target audience, the common man, used other forms of transportation. Their cause for existing, Southwest’s purpose, was to champion the common man, and their entire future business strategy came out of that “why.”

Southwest’s earliest flight booking process was easy – they only had two pricing categories, nights/weekends and daytime – in a time where booking was complicated, and their atmosphere was fun in a time when flying was viewed as elitist. “You are now free to move about the country,” a 1980s advertisement for Southwest proclaimed, reinforcing their message of wanting to open up more opportunities for the common man to travel, and it’s a message that still resonates in the company today.

In 2013, Southwest revealed their newest purpose: “we exist to connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.” Kelleher firmly believes his company’s success is due to its philosophy, and it’s something a competitor can’t replicate. “They can buy all the physical things. The things you can’t buy are dedication, devotion, loyalty – the feeling that you are participating in a crusade” (Gallo).

Southwest Airlines wanted to provide the common man with a way of travel never before available. The method was cheap, fun, and simple, and it just so happened to be provided on an airplane.

To learn more about Southwest Airlines’ mission and values, click here.

To experience some of the fun Southwest provides on their flight, check out this video of a flight attendant with a unique way of announcing airline safety.

(Media Strategy COM 314 Group with Sydney Lucas, Jessica D’Amelia, Elizabeth Brozovich, and Imani Campuzano-Guevara)

Barbera, Kirk. “Simon Sinek’s Start with Why Shows What Distinguishes Great Business Leaders.” The Objective Standard. 20 Mar. 2015. Web. 7 Feb. 2017.

Gallo, Carmine. “Southwest Airlines Motivates Its Employees With A Purpose Bigger Than A Paycheck.” Forbes.  06 Feb. 2014. Web. 07 Feb. 2017.



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