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纪念赫布·凯莱赫:商业航空界中举世无双的创新者

Shawn Tully 2019年01月20日

成为商业航空史上最成功的领导者,凯莱赫做出过很多伟大的创新。

2001年的凯莱赫。图片来源:Michael O’Neill—Corbis/Getty Images

在美国西南航空公司的达拉斯总部,走廊上的员工时常在一处类似于博物馆的地方驻足欢笑,这里总是充满了欢乐,展示了西南航空传奇的联合创始人赫布·凯莱赫如何与人热情拥抱,做着滑稽的鬼脸。西南航空的员工喜欢凯莱赫穿着亮片装模仿猫王的人形牌,他们时常按下播放键,听这位偶像三个不同版本一波高过一波的大笑声。“在大厅里经常未见其人,先闻其声,等真的看到他时,他总是用一个熊抱来打招呼。”西南航空的一位经理2014年告诉笔者。

凯莱赫于今年1月3日去世,享年87岁,在他去世后,各种各样的报道都用大标题描述着他闻名的浮夸风格。讣文中写道,竞争对手曾经声称,搭乘摆渡车用牛拉、没有固定座位、更没有头等舱的航空公司的旅客实在是太高看自己了;于是凯莱赫演了个广告,顶了个袋子在头上,并开玩笑地向西南航空的旅客提供袋子,让他们可以把“羞耻心”藏起来。事实上,凯莱赫油嘴滑舌、抽烟酗酒的形象却传达出了这样一个信息:一群逍遥快活的怪人构成的员工团队却赢得了最忠诚的客户。

但是凯莱赫的滑稽表象有时却掩盖了成就:他为西南航空打造了至今仍然屹立不倒的三大支柱。第一,他算得上是廉价航空这种革命性商业模式的发明者——而且还取得了运营上的成功,这在创始人界实属罕见。第二,他审慎的财务管理方式确保了西南航空公司能平稳度过市场动荡。第三,在全美劳资关系倒数第一的行业里,凯莱赫成功培养了全美最忠诚的员工队伍。

At Southwest Airlines’ headquarters in Dallas, employees strolling the corridors stop to chuckle at a kind of mirth-filled museum depicting its legendary co-founder hugging and mugging. Southwest folks love to gawk at a life-sized cutout of a sequined Herb Kelleher impersonating Elvis, or push a button that plays recordings of the icon’s laugh in three ascendingly boisterous versions. “In the halls, you’d always hear him before you saw him, and when you saw him, his greeting was a bear hug,” a Southwest manager told this reporter in 2014.

Kelleher’s passing on January 3 at age 87 evoked sundry stories headlining his fabled flamboyance. The obituaries noted that when rivals claimed travelers thought too much of themselves to fly an airline with cattle-car boarding and no assigned seats, let alone sans first class, Kelleher posed in an ad with a bag over his head, and jokingly offered the bags to Southwest customers so they could hide their “shame.” Indeed, Kelleher’s wisecracking, chain-smoking, hard-drinking image sent the message that a workforce of happy-go-lucky oddballs won the most loyal customers.

But Kelleher’s zaniness at times obscured his achievement in building the three sturdy pillars Southwest stands on to this day. First, he virtually invented—and then successfully operated, a rare accomplishment for a founder—a revolutionary business model, the low-cost carrier. Second, he deployed prudent financial management to keep Southwest’s wings level in turbulent times. Third, in an industry plagued by America’s worst labor relations, Kelleher managed to nurture what’s arguably corporate America’s most loyal workforce.

凯莱赫的滑稽表演,1990年。图片来源:Pam Francis—Liaison/Getty Images

因为上述架构,凯莱赫成为商业航空史上最成功的领导者。凯莱赫于1981年至2001年担任西南航空的首席执行官,他掌舵导航,使西南航空从一家在得州老家经营6架飞机的小公司蜕变为今天全美最受欢迎的国内航空公司,每年运输旅客量达1.2亿人次。一路走来,西南航空实现45年连续盈利,大大造福了公司股东。

凯莱赫在2017年的一次采访中承认,他在一定程度上复制了太平洋西南航空(PSA)的低成本模式,PSA一开始在加州提供最基础的航空服务,因此不受美国民用航空局(Civil Aeronautics Board,CAB)的定价限制。(后来转型为普通航空公司的PSA曾历经挣扎,并被全美航空收购。)凯莱赫意识到,低成本的关键在于保证航空公司最大的投资——飞机或称为机翼上的资本——每天的航行时间超过竞争对手。为了实现这一目标,他抛弃了要求大多数航班在上午10点左右和傍晚两个高峰时段大批量起飞的轮辐网络,选择在城市间开设没有中间站的“点对点”航线。为了降低运维成本,西南航空公司只经营波音737这一种型号的飞机。他还发现,不到三小时的“短程”航线虽然票价不高,利润却比洲际航班丰厚得多,因为平均每英里的票价更高,而且可以大大提高返航效率。

当西南航空进军价格高昂的准垄断市场时,会打破市场价格。西南航空于1993年开启巴尔的摩华盛顿机场至克利夫兰的航线,将往返票价从340美元降至19美元,并在一年内将航线流量提高了15倍,这是“西南航空效应”把民航业推向大众市场的典型案例。凯莱赫治下的西南航空公司成为捷蓝航空(JetBlue)、精神航空(Spirit)和瑞安航空(Ryanair)等航司的模版,这些能长久经营的廉价航空不断提升着航空旅行的大众化程度。

凯莱赫是个天生的创新者,但令人惊讶的是,他还是个保守的经营者,在处理西南航空的财务时尤为如此。“市场景气时好好经营,就能安然度过低迷。”他会这样告诉手下。当竞争对手迷失自我、购买酒店和租车公司时,凯莱赫认为西南航空公司只有一件事做得好——以最低的成本为客户提供最优质的航运服务。西南航空的资产负债表往往在业内业绩最优、杠杆率最低。有趣的是,凯莱赫认为西南航空从不裁员或解雇员工的做法不仅构建了良好的劳资关系,还减少了多余开支。他常说,这条准则使西南航空不得不维持较低的员工人数运营,这样才能保证市场不景气时不会人手冗余,也因而避免了经济低迷期解雇大批员工的行业规律。西南航空的员工队伍也因此实现了生产力最大化——飞机抵达时清理客舱的是空乘而不是维护人员。

凯莱赫创建的航空公司文化实属罕见,公司员工用笑脸和笑话欢迎客户,而不是把对管理层的怨恨发泄在工作中。老板也不享受帝王待遇。凯莱赫分给自己的办公室在里面,没有窗户,他把最美的景致留给了员工餐厅,那里可以俯瞰达拉斯爱田机场(Love Field)的13F跑道。他的招聘流程非常严格,求职者要在同一房间内与其他求职者一起进行多次面试,目的是考察他们在其他人说话时是留心倾听、表现尊重还是只关注自己。他要招的是玩世不恭的乐天派,是像他一样外向爱逗别人的人。为了保证新招录员工适合公司,西南航空至今仍然要求六个月的试用期,便于管理层观察新来的登机口服务员和空乘如何引起客户共鸣。对凯莱赫而言,唱着说唱乐的空乘、说着烂俗笑话的飞行员、公司歌舞队里跳着高踢腿舞的员工们共同组建了一支最好的队伍。“文化是无形的,是精神上的,买不到。”凯莱赫在2017年的问答环节中说道。

很显然,严格遵循凯莱赫人文精神的航空公司领导者是最大的成功者。本文作者最近跟随达美航空(Delta)的首席执行官埃德·巴斯蒂安前往盐湖城召开员工大会。巴斯蒂安的座右铭是“如果你照顾好你的员工,他们就会照顾好你的客户。”这句名言可能出自凯莱赫之口,帮助达美航空成为全美最成功的全球航线运营商。(西南航空主营国内航线。)总之,要想分析企业的人文关怀能不能制造利润,可以想想凯莱赫担任西南航空公司首席执行官的20年里,年均股东回报率为20.0%,在标普所有公司中居首位。在凯莱赫多年门徒、现任首席执行官盖瑞·凯利的领导下,西南航空公司遵循凯莱赫模式,继续取得辉煌业绩。大多数公司里,乏味的上级领导着乏味的员工。“有趣”很少被视为企业的资产。赫布·凯莱赫是个铁骨铮铮的小丑,他证明了传播乐趣可能是最重要的资产。(财富中文网)

本文另一版本登载于《财富》杂志2019年2月刊,题目是《纪念赫布》。

译者:Agatha

By creating that architecture, Kelleher stands as the most successful leader in the history of commercial aviation. As CEO from 1981 to 2001, Kelleher piloted Southwest from a tiny carrier that operated half-a-dozen planes in its native Texas towards what it is today, the nation’s most popular domestic airline, flying 120 million passengers annually. Along the way, Southwest has made money for 45 straight years, and greatly enriched shareholders.

In a 2017 interview, Kelleher acknowledged that he’d partially copied the low-cost model from PSA, an airline that initially offered bare-bones service inside California, and hence wasn’t subject to prices dictated by the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). (PSA later struggled as a full-fare carrier and was bought by U.S. Airways.) Kelleher saw that the key to low costs was keeping a carrier’s biggest investments, aircraft or capital on wings, in the air more hours a day than its competitors’. To get there, he eschewed hub-and-spoke networks that required that most planes leave in two big batches at peak times, mid-morning and late afternoon, and instead flew between cities “point-to-point” with no intermediate stops. To lower maintenance costs, Southwest operated only one aircraft model, the Boeing 737. Kelleher also found that “short-haul” routes of less than three hours, even at low prices, were a lot more profitable than, say, transcontinental flights, because the fares charged per mile were higher, and Southwest could turn the planes far faster.

When it invaded expensive, quasi-monopoly markets, Southwest crushed prices. Its entry into the Baltimore-Washington to Cleveland route in 1993 lowered round-trip fares from $340 to $19, and boosted traffic 15 fold in a year, a prime example of how the “Southwest effect” brought air travel to the masses. Under Kelleher, Southwest became the template for durable budget carriers that continue to democratize air travel, including JetBlue, Spirit, and Ryanair.

For a born innovator, Kelleher was a surprisingly conservative operator, especially in handling Southwest finances. “We manage in good times so we’ll do well in bad times,” he’d tell his lieutenants. While competitors went astray buying hotels and rental car companies, Kelleher believed that Southwest could do only one thing well, transport customers at the lowest cost with the best service. Southwest’s balance sheet was typically the strongest, and least-leveraged in the business. Interestingly, Kelleher reckoned that Southwest’s practice of never laying off or furloughing employees not only fostered excellent labor relations, but discouraged excessive spending. He often stated that the rule forced Southwest to operate with a lean workforce so that it wouldn’t be excessively over-staffed in down markets, and could buck the industry pattern of firing big swaths of workers in a downturn. That discipline drove Southwest to get maximum productivity from its workforce––the flight attendants, rather than maintenance crews, cleaned the cabins on arrival.

Kelleher created the rare airline culture where employees greet customers with grins and jokes instead of venting their resentment towards management on the job. No imperial perks for the boss. Kelleher gave himself an interior office with no windows and left the best views for the employee cafeteria overlooking runway 13F at Love Field. His hiring progress was rigorous, requiring candidates to sit multiple interviews in the same room with other candidates to see if candidates were listening and respectable when others were talking or just focused on themselves. He was looking for cockeyed optimists, extroverts like himself who loved to entertain. To make sure the employee fit, Southwest to this day offers jobs on a six month probationary period so managers can view how the new gate agents and flight attendants click with customers. For Kelleher, an assortment of rap-singing flight attendants, pilots uncorking corny jokes, and folks who loved to high-kick in the company chorus lines made the best army. “Culture is intangible, it’s spiritual, you can’t buy it,” Kelleher said in the 2017 Q&A.

It’s clear that the airline leaders who most closely follow Kelleher’s humanist vision are the most successful. This writer recently followed Delta CEO Ed Bastian as he rallied employees in Salt Lake City. Bastian’s motto is that “if you take care of your employees, your employees will take care of your customers.” That dictum could have come from Kelleher, and it’s helped make Delta America’s most successful global carrier. (Southwest is mainly domestic.) In conclusion, to judge how nurturing the human nature of an enterprise can produce profits, consider that in Kelleher’s 20 years as CEO, Southwest posted total returns to shareholders averaging 20.0% a year, the best performance of any company in the S&P. And by following Kelleher’s template, Southwest has continued to drive strong returns under his long-term protégé and current CEO Gary Kelly. In most companies, the bland lead the bland. Corporate “fun” is seldom viewed as an asset. Herb Kelleher was the clown with a spine of steel, who proved that spreading fun could be the greatest asset of all.

A version of this article appears in the February 2019 issue of Fortune with the headline “Remembering Herb.”

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