“So what’s going to happen to us? The honest answer is I don’t know. No one knows. That’s the only honest answer anyone can provide. We’ve never experienced anything like this in our lifetimes.”
Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly addressed employees in a video chat this week and worked very hard to tow the line between “candid CEO, calming Dad, and preacher” (credit to USA Today’s Dawn Gilbertson for that quip).
In this case, I think the quotes speak for themselves. I will offer brief commentary under each one.
Delusional Southwest Employees
“Most of my co-workers are not processing the dark and dangerous reality. Our messages of strength have created a false sense of security. My co-workers talk about the losses at JetBlue and Delta yet somehow don’t apply those numbers to Southwest.”
Most people suffer from a “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” syndrome, but apparently not so at Southwest. Instead, employees (and feel free to chime in if you are employee in the comments section below) have thought (once) high and might Southwest will be spared. But apparently Kelly does not think so.
Warning Of A Smaller Airline
“If things don’t improve dramatically over the May, June, July time period, we’ll have to prepare ourselves for a drastically smaller airline. I am not predicting that. I am not predicting that. But life can be very humbling.”
Sadly, I am going to predict that. I’d love to see a V-shaped recovery, but have a feeling it will much more resemble a “W” (where the middle peak only rises to about half of the height of the outer peaks). That will mean a “dramatically” smaller airline. That would also mean potential job cuts, something Southwest has never had to enact in its 48-year history. But Kelly says that if the situation does not improve, he will seek pay and benefit cuts before job cuts.
A Rallying Cry
“Many companies will not survive this and it may be through no fault of their own. A lot of jobs will be destroyed. Institutions will be lost that took years or decades to build. … But Southwest is too precious to lose. All of us, we are the stewards and the protectors of what’s been built over 50 years and must guard this treasure that has been entrusted to us with all our might.”
Great sentiment, but the humbling thing is this is really totally outside of Southwest’s control. You can guard the treasure all day long, but this situation is more akin to holding treasure but the oxygen flowing out of the room, making such treasure pointless.
You can watch the entire discussion below:
While United has chosen to convey a pessimistic (I’m sure incoming CEO Scott Kirby would say realist) message and American Airlines an optimistic one, Southwest has taken a middle road. Kelly’s words are hardly comforting, but there must be some hope that comes from channeling his inner-Winston Churchill.
“Do we give up? Well, of course not. We fight. … And we fight like we’ve never fought before. We fight to defeat this virus. And we fight for our customers, every single one. They’re precious and we need them. And don’t ever be rude.”