Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines was an original. He was a maverick, a trailblazer, a visionary and a huge, huge heart. To GSD&M, he was also a partner and a friend. Some GSD&Mers worked with Herb for years and remember them as the most impactful time of their career, including GSD&M’s founders, Roy Spence, Judy Trabulsi, Steve Gurasich and Tim McClure. Written below are a few of our GSD&Mers most cherished memories of the legend that is Herb Kelleher.
Roy Spence, Cofounder, GSD&M
It was in November of 1974 when a man named Bob Krueger from New Braunfels upset a San Antonio man named Nelson Wolfe in a Congressional Race in Texas. I ran the advertising campaign for the winner Bob Krueger. A man named Herb Kelleher (whom I did not know at the time) was a big supporter of Nelson Wolfe.
Time passed and out of the cold I get a call from a woman named Colleen Barrett, she said: “Roy, a while back you kicked Herb’s butt and he wants you to come see him.” I asked, “Who is Herb again?” Colleen said, “Oh, you will find out.” And boy did I. I was 28, and Southwest Airlines had about 28 planes. I drove to see him and Colleen, and after hours of swapping stories, Colleen got bored and left; and Herb asked, “Do you drink?” I said, “A lot.” Herb lit another cig, reached under his table and pulled out a mayo jar of mezcal. He said, “Ever drink mezcal?” I said, “No.” He took a puff and said, “Fasten your seat belt, we’re going for a ride.”
We drank it all, shared the worm and that my friends began the ride of my life. A ride my partners Judy, Tim and Steve shared with our then little agency called GSD&M. Herb and Colleen brought us into the family and together we “democratized the skies” in every part of the grand land called America.
Most of all, we shared love. Love of Herb and Colleen’s purpose-inspired journey to give people the freedom to fly, which created (and we did not know it at the time) a Purpose movement that would change the course of how visionary companies would treat their Employees, their Stakeholders, Customers, vendor partners, communities and their nation.
I loved Herb. He loved me. Herb was and will always be my hero, my soulmate, my father, my brother and while he has already left on a jet plane…what he left with me is a tear in my eye; a hole in my soul but most importantly a bright light in my heart. One that shines every morning at sunrise. Because every morning I look to the skies and I am challenged and inspired to do as he did…rise above the negativity and darkness of the valley…and spread sunshine and goodness and as John Gillespie Magee, Jr. said so powerfully – and the men and women of our United States Air Force live by – in his anthem High Flight.
“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of… Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.”
With Herb Kelleher, goodness ruled. Godspeed, Herb.
Steve Gurasich, Cofounder, GSD&M
Herb was an amazing mentor and friend. The ideal partner, demanding yet fair and honest. Smart as hell but always willing to listen, had a knack for bringing out the best in you. Always glad to see you, enjoy a conversation and a Wild Turkey or two.
I learned so much from him. Smart, practical, fun and a true servant leader. Some say, “Never say never.” I say, “There will never be another Herb.” Talk about being lucky…just knowing him personally.
Aside from creating and building the best airline in the world, Herb did it his way. Low fares, fast turnarounds, fuel hedging, great relationships with his People and vendor partners. Go on and on.
But what really separated Herb was his personality and ability to instill his SPIRIT into others. That is why today, Southwest Airlines has and will continue to have the finest leadership and workforce in the airline industry. People who always put their customers first and always who use their own unique personalities to make Customers feel important, happy and appreciated.
Helluva legacy. Godspeed, mi amigo.
Judy Trabulsi, Cofounder, GSD&M
Herb put GSD&M on the map. We had never been around a CEO like Herb Kelleher, and we’ve been around a lot of CEOs. He was the greatest I’d ever worked for. Together with Colleen, they built a culture like no other, a culture that didn’t exist in the business world. It was truly a phenomena. They were the perfect role models. We learned so much from Southwest Airlines. It didn’t take many meetings for what GSD&M needed to do to click: build a family instead of a company. Do good by your employees and treat them right, and they will be devoted to your company and purpose. And that’s exactly what we did. That was one of so many lessons we learned from Herb and why we owe a great deal of who GSD&M is to them.
Tim McClure, Cofounder, GSD&M
Southwest Airlines and GSD&M were both founded in 1971, and that’s where the similarities began. Both companies embrace people who believe in The Golden Rule: treat others as you’d like to be treated.
Southwest Chairman Herb Kelleher always treated us with unwavering respect. He inspired me to teach a whale how to fly, Shamu One, and to design a series of 17 more custom liveries, including 12 flagships. We have created countless campaigns and commercials that captured his courageous core values and a heartfelt sense of humor and humanity.
Herb once introduced me to a large gathering of aviation types as a bona fide idiot savant. “He’s still working on the savant part,” he told them, “but he’s got the idiot part down pat!”
Through the years, we have laughed together, cried together and shared more than a few shots of Wild Turkey.
Did Herb really draw “The Texas Triangle” on a cocktail napkin? Did he ever say “We take our competition seriously, but not ourselves?” Doesn’t matter. All part of the inimitable Southwest legend.
Herb was my friend, my mentor and my hero. It was an honor and a privilege to work closely with him for the past 37+ years.
On Thursday morning, January 3, 2019, Herb boarded his last flight. I hope to join him Up Yonder one day.
Godspeed, Herbert David Kelleher.
Brent Ladd, Group Creative Director, GSD&M
Okay, here’s a little story I remember about Herb.
Around 2003, Southwest had its first plane delivered with the new winglets.
This beautiful new plane flew from Boeing’s factory in Seattle straight to Austin.
Our ad team at GSD&M was invited to the hangar in Austin to check out the new plane along with some of our Southwest clients and Herb.
My team was headed back to the office when I heard Herb say, “So where are you all going?”
And right then and there, he invited us to jump on the plane and fly to Dallas to show off the plane with the new winglets at the Love Field Southwest headquarters.
Herb said, “Cancel meetings.” “Let’s go!”
So we did!
It was amazing to take a ride in that new plane with Herb and only a handful of Southwest clients and our GSD&M team. There was so much energy and excitement on the plane. Of course Herb was telling jokes, handing out peanuts to all of us and making funny announcements on the PA.
That kind of impromptu encounter was so Herb. He always wanted us to be 100 percent part of his team.
Herb, we’ll never forget you.
Your distinctive belly laugh that was so contagious.
Your uncanny ability to make us feel like we were the only person in the world that mattered when you spoke to us.
How you always remembered our name and something about us, even if you didn’t see us for months.
Thank you for all we learned from you. We will miss you.
Herb, you are now free to move about the heavens.
Lara Bridger, Group Creative Director, GSD&M
One of my first days working on Southwest I got to meet Herb Kelleher. I’m lucky like that.
I had heard all the stories. I knew I would be standing face-to-face with a legend. So I was nervous. But the moment he walked in wearing his signature grin, he set everyone at ease. That’s because Herb genuinely loved people. When Herb was talking to you, you felt like you were the only person in the room. This legend, this genius guy who upended the airline industry wants to drink Wild Turkey and have a laugh with me?
That day, I heard him talk about why Southwest is different. Herb always insisted, it’s because our People are different. And I believe what Herb said. It’s the People that make Southwest great. But I also know firsthand that Herb had that rare kind of heart that inspired every single person around him to be better. He made us believe in our own greatness and in the greatness of all people.
We’ll do our best to make sure your heart lives on, Herb.
Marty Erhart, Art Director, GSD&M
My favorite story I have to tell about working with Herb came when I was assigned to art direct the pictures we needed to take of him when he won The Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy in 2000. Herb would join past winners whose names included Lindbergh and Doolittle. This was a huge deal! But, in typical Herb fashion, one should never take oneself too seriously.
We ended up with two wonderful pictures. For the program’s cover, Herb is decked out in a vintage aviator’s leather cap, goggles, scarf and jacket, holding a lit cigar. He cut quite the dashing figure! And for the full-page portrait at the end of the program, Herb is seated on a table with the trophy, his hand resting on its base. You can see by his expression how much this award meant to him, the culmination of his mission to give everyone in America the freedom to fly. The same freedom the Wright brothers experienced for the first time back in 1903.