Seen on the street in Kyiv.

Words of Advice:

"If Something Seems To Be Too Good To Be True, It's Best To Shoot It, Just In Case." -- Fiona Glenanne

“The Mob takes the Fifth. If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?” -- The TOFF *

"Foreign Relations Boil Down to Two Things: Talking With People or Killing Them." -- Unknown

“Speed is a poor substitute for accuracy.” -- Real, no-shit, fortune from a fortune cookie

"If you believe that you are talking to G-d, you can justify anything.” — my Dad

"Colt .45s; putting bad guys in the ground since 1873." -- Unknown

"Stay Strapped or Get Clapped." -- probably not Mr. Rogers

"The Dildo of Karma rarely comes lubed." -- Unknown

"Eck!" -- George the Cat

* "TOFF" = Treasonous Orange Fat Fuck,
"FOFF" = Felonious Old Fat Fuck,
"COFF" = Convicted Old Felonious Fool,
A/K/A Commandante (or Cadet) Bone Spurs,
A/K/A El Caudillo de Mar-a-Lago, A/K/A the Asset,
A/K/A P01135809, A/K/A Dementia Donnie,
A/K/A Dolt-45, A/K/A Don Snoreleone

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Southwest Airlines (and Boeing): Ruined by the Beancounters

(NB: I received this from a source. I was at first reluctant to run it, but it has since appeared elsewhere.)

One consistent feature of American corporations: Those run by MBAs and beancounters, as opposed to those run by people who know the relevant industry, are, in the long run, doomed to fail.

This is the view of a SWA pilot on the SWA Pilot's Association Facebook page:

Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) Voices From The Line: Larry Lonero

What happened to Southwest Airlines?

I’ve been a pilot for Southwest Airlines for over 35 years. I’ve given my heart and soul to Southwest Airlines during those years. And quite honestly Southwest Airlines has given its heart and soul to me and my family.

Many of you have asked what caused this epic meltdown. Unfortunately, the frontline employees have been watching this meltdown coming like a slow motion train wreck for sometime. And we’ve been begging our leadership to make much needed changes in order to avoid it. What happened yesterday started two decades ago.

Herb Kelleher was the brilliant CEO of SWA until 2004. He was a very operationally oriented leader. Herb spent lots of time on the front line. He always had his pulse on the day to day operation and the people who ran it. That philosophy flowed down through the ranks of leadership to the front line managers. We were a tight operation from top to bottom. We had tools, leadership and employee buy in. Everything that was needed to run a first class operation. When Herb retired in 2004 Gary Kelly became the new CEO.

Gary was an accountant by education and his style leading Southwest Airlines became more focused on finances and less on operations. He did not spend much time on the front lines. He didn’t engage front line employees much. When the CEO doesn’t get out in the trenches the neither do the lower levels of leadership.

Gary named another accountant to be Chief Operating Officer (the person responsible for day to day operations). The new COO had little or no operational background. This trickled down through the lower levels of leadership, as well.

They all disengaged the operation, disengaged the employees and focused more on Return on Investment, stock buybacks and Wall Street. This approach worked for Gary’s first 8 years because we were still riding the strong wave that Herb had built.

But as time went on the operation began to deteriorate. There was little investment in upgrading technology (after all, how do you measure the return on investing in infrastructure?) or the tools we needed to operate efficiently and consistently. As the frontline employees began to see the deterioration in our operation we began to warn our leadership. We educated them, we informed them and we made suggestions to them. But to no avail. The focus was on finances not operations. As we saw more and more deterioration in our operation our asks turned to pleas. Our pleas turned to dire warnings. But they went unheeded. After all, the stock price was up so what could be wrong?

We were a motivated, willing and proud employee group wanting to serve our customers and uphold the tradition of our beloved airline, the airline we built and the airline that the traveling public grew to cheer for and luv. But we were watching in frustration and disbelief as our once amazing airline was becoming a house of cards.

A half dozen small scale meltdowns occurred during the mid to late 2010’s. With each mini meltdown Leadership continued to ignore the pleas and warnings of the employees in the trenches. We were still operating with 1990’s technology. We didn’t have the tools we needed on the line to operate the sophisticated and large airline we had become. We could see that the wheels were about ready to fall off the bus. But no one in leadership would heed our pleas.

When COVID happened SWA scaled back considerably (as did all of the airlines) for about two years. This helped conceal the serious problems in technology, infrastructure and staffing that were occurring and being ignored. But as we ramped back up the lack of attention to the operation was waiting to show its ugly head.

Gary Kelly retired as CEO in early 2022. Bob Jordan was named CEO. He was a more operationally oriented leader. He replaced our Chief Operating Officer with a very smart man and they announced their priority would be to upgrade our airline’s technology and provide the frontline employees the operational tools we needed to care for our customers and employees. Finally, someone acknowledged the elephant in the room.

But two decades of neglect takes several years to overcome. And, unfortunately to our horror, our house of cards came tumbling down this week as a routine winter storm broke our 1990’s operating system.

The frontline employees were ready and on station. We were properly staffed. We were at the airports. Hell, we were ON the airplanes. But our antiquated software systems failed coupled with a decades old system of having to manage 20,000 frontline employees by phone calls. No automation had been developed to run this sophisticated machine.

We had a routine winter storm across the Midwest last Thursday. A larger than normal number flights were cancelled as a result. But what should have been one minor inconvenient day of travel turned into this nightmare. After all, American, United, Delta and the other airlines operated with only minor flight disruptions.

The two decades of neglect by SWA leadership caused the airline to lose track of all its crews. ALL of us. We were there. With our customers. At the jet. Ready to go. But there was no way to assign us. To confirm us. To release us to fly the flight. And we watched as our customers got stranded without their luggage missing their Christmas holiday.

I believe that our new CEO Bob Jordan inherited a MESS. This meltdown was not his failure but the failure of those before him. I believe he has the right priorities. But it will take time to right this ship. A few years at a minimum. Old leaders need to be replaced. Operationally oriented managers need to be brought in. I hope and pray Bob can execute on his promises to fix our once proud airline. Time will tell.

It’s been a punch in the gut for us frontline employees. We care for the traveling public. We have spent our entire careers serving you. Safely. Efficiently. With luv and pride. We are horrified. We are sorry. We are sorry for the chaos, inconvenience and frustration our airline caused you. We are angry. We are embarrassed. We are sad. Like you, the traveling public, we have been let down by our own leaders.

Herb once said the the biggest threat to Southwest Airlines will come from within. Not from other airlines. What a visionary he was.

I miss Herb now more than ever.


Jones, Jon Jones said...

Can't you blame the 737 Max failures on the bean counters. Wasn't Lee Iacocca the last product guy to lead an American car company? Didn't US manufacturing start to die with the rise of the MBA?

Comrade Misfit said...

One can absolutely blame the 737 MAX debacle on the beancounters.

I've had a lot to say about the shitshow that is Boeing over the years. This is a sample.

Eck! said...

Over 50 years in electronics, different parts of it.
Sad story is, I could tell that same one.

The MBAs are the worst of the ugly hourde, The
operationally attached but deficient make claims too
and fail. In the end I've seen more than 5 companies
go literally away due to management that didn't have
the feel and maybe leadership to understand and do
the required things. To the MBAs, study failure,
its avoidable, and you may be driving to the scene
of the crime as they victim and cause.

In the end I'm retired, covered my six enough to be
comfortable. What still pains me is over 7 companies
with good ideas some great products are reduced to
who were they, what did they do? Historical, vapor
the end of ideas and often cultures they fosterd.

So when asked what they did wrong, they failed the
customer either externally by treating them badly,
or internally by treating themselves as an entity
badly. In all cases they did the one thing you
never do, piss off the customer by going out of
business, it is unforgivable. That's the very
definition of unsuccessful. If they can stay
in business and fix their problems they can be
forgiven, maybe. Success takes work.


Stewart Dean said...

NYTimes article:

As for the lousy 1990s operational IT support, the classic book on how software not only becomes outdated but actually ages and dies is Brooks' The Mythical Man Month:

Kicking the can down the road with duct tape and bailing wire eventually kills software. Like roofs, they have to be maintained and periodically replaced....and you are ^$#%ed if you don't budget and plan for it.

IBM under the Watsons may have been run by salesmen, but knew it had nothing without engineers and customers. The old man ran it based on 3 principles: Respect for the Individual (which included its workers and customers), Give the best service of anyone anywhere in the world and Give your best in every job. No spreadsheets, just the honor and dignity of your best work. T
The IBM of today is doing a GM, a power-off glide...but gravity always wins.

rdale said...

I think this applies not just to Southwest, but to many, if not most corporations today. St. Ronnie of the Rayguns, back in the 1980s, introduced the concept of "greed is good," i.e. that that highest goal of any corporation was to maximize profits for shareholders. Nothing else mattered, not customers, not service, not employees. Profits uber alles. That still holds true today, despite all the attempts at greenwashing and claims to be customer oriented. When it comes to shove, the greatest good is: maximize the profits. And when it fails, sell it off and skip town.

Chris said...

Many years ago, I read the book, "NUTS!: Southwest Airlines' Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success". In that book, I was surprised to learn that a founding principle of the airline was to place the employees first, before shareholders and customers. The attitude was that if you have extremely happy and motivated employees, the customers would be happy and the profits would come flooding in. I loved that book, written in (I think) 1996. That's a long time ago.

B said...

According to folks I know in Southwest the meltdown began at Denver when the management would not let the ramp workers return without a doctors not if they called off....many had colds and flu.
Then the work times got longer and longer as management mandated 12 hour and then 16 hour days to make up for the shortage of ramp workers.
When the workers complained they were told to either "suck it up or quit" so like 50 of them quit....(apparently the other airlines have been trying to poach these workers for a while, so they are likely employed already)
Once that happened, they couldn't process aircraft at Denver, leading to flight cancellations for flights arriving to denver.. Planes that would haveve gone LA/Denver/miami/chicago or whatever never left on their first the entire schedule was screwed up as planes and crews were at the wrong places....that snowballed into a mess that the software couldn't handle....and the issue with the scheduling software been known about for years. (The new CEO didn't fix anything since he arrived last April, BTW)
So you had planes without crews, crews without airplanes, planes in the wrong locations, and a ramp crew shortage at one of their busiest airports....
Anyway, once things crumbled, the only way to put it back together was to do a complete reset.

But it all began in Denver when the management basically told the ramp folks to go fuck themselves....