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Founder of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher, dies aged 87

SOUTHWEST Airlines founder Herb Kelleher, who built the company up over three decades to become the biggest discount carrier and inspired copycat airlines, has died at the age of 87

Founder of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher, dies aged 87

SOUTHWEST Airlines founder Herb Kelleher, who built the company up over three decades to become the biggest discount carrier and inspired copycat airlines, has died at the age of 87

08 January 2019 - 19:00

SOUTHWEST Airlines founder Herb Kelleher, who built the company up over three decades to become the biggest discount carrier and inspired copycat airlines, has died at the age of 87.

Mr Kelleher's persona as a chain-smoking sipper of whisky fit the airline's creation story: He and Texas businessman Rollin King used a cocktail napkin in 1966 to sketch a plan for flights in a triangle of Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, reported Bloomberg.



Their formula of short, frequent, no-frills trips spawned dozens of imitators, made Southwest the largest US carrier by domestic traffic, and led to an annual profit streak dating to 1973.



'His stamp on the airline industry cannot be overstated,' said Southwest chief executive officer Gary Kelly in a statement confirming the death. 'His vision for making air travel affordable for all revolutionised the industry and you can still see that transformation taking place today.'



Mr Kelleher retired as CEO of Dallas-based Southwest in 2001 and stepped down as chairman in 2008. He retained the title of chairman emeritus.



After posting losses in its first two years of flying, in 1971 and 1972, Southwest started the industry's longest run of profits while most rivals lost billions and filed for bankruptcy or went out of business. Mr Kelleher served as general counsel until 1978 when he became chairman. He took over as president and CEO in 1981.



Billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who disparaged airline investments after taking a stake in a predecessor of US Airways Group Inc in 1989, called Southwest 'a fabulous business' in 2001.



Mr Kelleher is 'right up there with Sam Walton,' the founder of Wal-Mart Stores Inc, Mr Buffett told reporters on board a London-to-Paris flight. When Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc returned to investing in airlines in 2016, it took stakes in four airlines - including Southwest.



Herbert David Kelleher was born March 12, 1931, in Camden, New Jersey. He earned his bachelor's degree from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut and received a law degree from New York University Law School. In 1999, when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, yet by 2009 he was named deputy board chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and chairman in 2011.



After his retirement as Southwest CEO, he worked on scheduling, marketing, strategic planning and government affairs. In more recent years, Mr Kelleher advised CEO Kelly when asked and continued to be involved in special projects and industry issues.


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