Southwest Airlines is one company that never fails to inspire. Today, more than ever before, we can learn a lot from the way this company, which was once a startup with cash flow problems, became a hugely successful enterprise – that too in a business where it’s difficult to even break-even; forget about making profits. Think about bad times, turbulence, upheaval; Southwest has seen it all. From fuel shocks, to interest rate changes to the worst of all – the 9/11 attacks which psyched customers away from flights – Southwest has braved every storm and has come out stronger each time. Its probably got something to do with Herb Kelleher’s (founder Southwest) mantra. He says, “In good times, manage as though bad times are just around the corner, because they are sure to come.” It’s life and it’s normal. It may seem that the world is going out of control, but the truth is that you need to have a unique kind of leadership, a unique outlook to come out unscathed.
I firmly believe, your attitude determines your altitude. After World War II, Boeing lost more than 90% of its revenues. The US government cancelled most orders for bomber aircraft, which had been the mainstay of the aircraft industry. It could not get worse than this, but Boeing’s Bill Allen saw this as an opportunity. He decided to use his knowledge of military planes and used some of its unique features to build commercial aircrafts. People thought he was crazy, but the $16 million of the company’s profits that he sank into this project paid-off. He got his orders and the company was in business again. By 2001, Boeing remained the only American provider of commercial aircrafts. According to Jim Collins, the author of the famous book Built to Last, 15 of the 18 companies in it had lived through the depression and all 18 are standalone companies today. And if you look closely, you will find a great leader who never looked back, never compromised, however great the pressure was.
Great leaders never let any adversity rule them, instead they turn it into an opportunity. Great leaders create great companies and great organisational cultures. According to Fortune magazine’s list of “100 Best companies to work for,” last year Google featured at the number 1 position. However this time it is beaten by “NetApp”. Network Appliance has survived the dot-com crash, has been growing consistently for years and hit $3.3 billion in sales last year. It’s the company’s “down-to-earth management ethos” that has catapulted it to the number one position. Its business heads don’t make business plans, rather they write “future histories,” where they imagine where their business will go in a year or two. Always frugal, but never foolish when it comes to handling expenses, the company has a great culture. Not surprisingly, it has gained market share during the slump, hasn’t had layoffs and has over $2 billion in cash on hand to help it survive the slowdown.
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