The Confident Entrepreneur

There is at least one must-have trait for successful entrepreneurs. Without confidence the road is very steep and rocky. College basketball is one of the most interesting demonstrations of how confidence or a lack thereof, can impact outcomes. I’ve watched many a game where the players on a team are tentative. They lack energy and they are missing their shots. Often they are out of position and cannot rebound or chase down loose balls. A few days later the same team plays another game. This time there is fluidity in their motion. They are passing the ball crisply; players are getting nice elevation when they shoot, and the ball is going in the hole. The night-and-day difference between the two contests is that of confidence.

What is the secret to gaining and maintaining confidence? There are several elements that are required. The first is that of “mastery.” Mastery is achieved through constant practice and the repetitive patterning that occurs as our experience builds. This is particularly important for millennials to understand. Fair or not, many millennials are tagged with the stereotype that they have an incredibly high sense of urgency. They don’t want to wait for results and can be impatient at times. However, I’ve seen millennials and people of all ages, try something a couple of times and believe they have mastered it. Then I watch as they try it again and bomb badly. With confidence shaken they are humbled and may become afraid to jump in the water again. All of this could have been avoided had real mastery been achieved. One of the biggest fears in society today is that of public speaking. And the only way to resolve this fear once and for all, is to practice speaking over and over and over. The fear doesn’t suddenly evaporate after a handful of gigs. It took me 50 or 60 times to reach the point that I began to feel comfortable in front of a group.

The second element is that of achieving a history of desired outcomes. It’s one thing to repeat a process enough times to master something. That helps to build confidence. But achieving the results we want is the validation necessary for us to know that we’re on the right track with our mastery. Let’s use our basketball example again. A team may be executing the basics and fundamentals properly; it may be playing strong defense, and the players are running the plays as designed. But if the scoreboard isn’t showing a W for the team on a regular basis, it’s hard to build confidence. I’ve never heard anyone profess that losing all the time builds confidence . . . but winning does. As entrepreneurs we must tweak our approach until we begin to win consistently. For example, if our sales approach isn’t working and we keep doing it the same way, it’s time to start experimenting to learn what it takes to win. After all, there’s no point in “mastering” losing!

The third aspect of building confidence is to always maintain a positive attitude – no matter what. We must believe that eventually we’ll get it right; eventually we will win. I’ve said many times that what we think in mind produces in the outer after its kind. When we believe at our core that we are going to win, eventually we will win. If we have doubts or know in our bones that we’re going to lose, eventually we will lose. I have never seen anyone become more self-confident by having a negative attitude. Attitude is critical to the success of individuals and to the team. If one member of the team is positive and the rest are negative, the confidence of the team will be adversely affected. As entrepreneurial leaders it is incumbent upon us to make sure that our team is unanimous with a positive attitude.

Developing mastery, achieving success and being eternally optimistic are the rocket fuel that will propel us to a perpetual state of self-confidence. This patterning also inoculates us from having our self-confidence shaken when from time-to-time we might stumble. We’ve been there before. We know what we must do, and we are able to re-calibrate and get back on track with ease and grace. There is no panic or desperation – we simply remember to follow the formula that has worked so well in the past.

Building self-confidence is a process much like riding a bicycle. Once learned, we may fall off on rare occasion; but when we do we get up, dust ourselves off and start riding the bike again like it never happened.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Entrepreneur’s Team of Superheroes

Who is on your team? I don’t mean your work team . . . who is always in your corner and supporting you every step of the way? Smart entrepreneurs understand how important it is to assemble such a team. It can be very lonely at times in our line of work. It seems as though we always have to be “on” and acting as a role model. We must stay calm and never show that we might be worried about something (making payroll, lawsuits, competition – you name it). The stress that we can experience will manifest in negative ways if we don’t manage it successfully.

Many years ago, I found that creating Powerful Personal Partnerships can become the team we need to help us lead balanced and productive lives. If we give short shrift to any of these partnerships that balance can be interrupted to our peril. The Powerful Personal Partnerships to which I refer are composed of Superheroes that are vitally important to my success and my sanity.

Here’s how I got started with this idea. First, I identified seven central elements of my life. They included Family, Intellectual, Emotional, Spiritual, Physical, Financial and Business. My theory was that if I could maintain a healthy balance in all seven of these areas, my life would flourish and be complete. And that is exactly what has happened over many years. But the balancing act has not happened without many other people who have been there to support me. I realized early on that neglecting one or more of these elements could result in hiccups in my life – some minor and others of much more consequence. Maintaining the balance was the obvious antidote for eliminating as many of the speed bumps as possible.

To maintain the balance, we must ultimately focus equally on these areas. This doesn’t mean that we must spend the same amount of time in all areas at once. However, when we spend more time in business for example, at some point we need to amp up our focus on the other areas or we do end up neglecting them. To accomplish this, I created partnerships with people who I could always count on. Starting with Family, I began seeing my wife and daughters as partners. This resulted in more moments of sharing of information and gratitude. I wrote love letters to each one of them and worked harder to build more meaningful relationships.

Intellectual stimulation is necessary for me to feel fulfilled. I became involved in a number of philanthropic endeavors including serving on boards and as a mentor to other entrepreneurs through a formalized mentoring program. This has enabled me to cast a wide net across a vast array of subject matter than energizes me including aviation, politics, education and science.

On the Emotional front, I found that the relationships I built and maintained for philanthropic purposes were helpful in maintaining balance. Likewise, my circle of friends was instrumental in this regard as well.

Spiritually, I connected regularly with my minister as well as other select members of my church. Organized religion is in a transformational state at the present time. Finding a spiritual balance doesn’t require participating in a church though it can be helpful. But we do need to identify others on the spiritual journey with whom we can ponder our essence.

On the Physical plane, I partner with my doctor, a blood chemistry specialist and an orthopedic expert – and I ask them all to compare notes to make certain they are in agreement on my wellness and how to treat health issues that arise. I also have worked for years with a personal trainer to improve my fitness.

A big part of our lives is the Financial aspect. I have partnered with wealth advisors, tax professionals and bankers to ensure that we are financially secure now and in the future.

And finally, I have a number of partners in my Business life including individuals who run the various business units, partners in ownership as well as investors and lenders.

Over the years I’ve assembled a team of Superheroes that support me. But here’s the thing. It’s a two-way street. I’ve found that it’s not just about them supporting me – I also will do whatever I can to support them. After all, that’s what partnering is all about. It’s a symbiotic relationship. I think the most profound aspect of the concept of Powerful Personal Partnerships is the intentionality of it. I am actively working every day to make sure I’m focusing on each of the seven elements and not neglecting any of them.

Each of us needs our own team of Superheroes who are invested in our success just as we are invested in theirs. Creating Powerful Personal Partnerships can help us find and maintain a healthy balance in our lives that will ultimately propel us to success.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 135 – Driven or Driving?

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

An Entrepreneur’s Poison

Tyler is mad at Gilbert. Mad may not be an adequate description. Tyler is so livid that he doesn’t trust himself to talk to Gilbert about “the incident” for fear that he might end up in handcuffs after the encounter. I think you get the picture. Here’s the rest of the story. Tyler is an entrepreneur who has built a small but rapidly growing company that buys fledgling software projects and fully develops them into commercial products. Gilbert is a software engineer who has a terrific idea that he began to develop and talked extensively with Tyler about taking it to the next step. The two hit it off very well and a very close relationship grew over time. Negotiations had progressed to the point that documents were prepared, and a signing date was set. Then it happened. Tyler received a phone call late one afternoon from an industry analyst informing him that Gilbert had just signed an agreement with Tyler’s closest competitor, to develop the software. Tyler called Gilbert and got his voicemail. He texted and e-mailed – radio silence. Naturally Tyler feels totally betrayed, blindsided and embarrassed. Betrayed because Gilbert had committed the deal to him; blindsided because Gilbert hadn’t had the decency to call him first, and embarrassed because he heard about it from someone else.

You probably know the rest of the story. Tyler finally reaches Gilbert and confronts him about the situation. Gilbert says, “Tyler, it’s only business. I made a decision that I felt was best for me.” This only adds fuel to the fire raging inside Tyler and a long-term grudge ensues with ongoing thoughts of revenge and payback. And, at the end of the day this is the classic Entrepreneur’s Poison.

It’s understandable that Tyler is upset about Gilbert’s actions. But Tyler faces a fork-in-the-road choice at this point. He can hold a grudge for a long period of time and plot ways to get back at Gilbert, drinking the Entrepreneur’s Poison in the process. Or he can learn from the experience and move on. I emphasize the fact that this is a choice that Tyler will make. He’s in control – not Gilbert. As entrepreneurs we will likely face similar circumstances at some point in our careers – maybe we already have. Do we drink the Entrepreneur’s Poison or not?

On December 13, 1977, during an NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Houston Rockets, Lakers forward Kermit Washington threw a punch that shattered the face of Houston player, Rudy Tomjanovich. The blow was so devastating that spinal fluid was leaking out of the wound as Tomjanovich was rushed to the hospital. His injuries were life threatening and it took several surgeries to repair the damage. Jonathan Feigen’s 2018 book “100 Things Rockets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die,” details how Tomjanovich felt the need to forgive Washington who had apologized to him in 1987. Feigen states, “Washington could not have known that Tomjanovich had come to believe that holding resentment is ‘a poison’ people ingest needlessly. ‘If I keep those other things, self-destructive things, a part of who I am, I’m missing a good life,’ Tomjanovich said.”

Here’s the thing. When we feel that we’ve been wronged by someone else, harboring feelings of resentment and plotting revenge takes a lot of energy – and worse, it’s negative energy. This same energy could be used in positive ways that benefit ourselves and others. Someone I know was recently betrayed by a long-time friend. She wonders how she’ll ever be able to trust this individual again. My response was to ask if deciding in absolute terms that trust is broken forever is the best perspective. She asked what I would say to this friend and I responded, “The trust has been broken and it will take a while to earn it back.” Then we move on and live our lives without holding a grudge or resentment. It becomes the choice of the transgressor to rebuild the trust or not. Dwelling on the situation and replaying it over and over does nothing to undo what happened.

In our entrepreneurial world it’s extremely important that we operate in a positive sphere. No one can harm us unless we allow them to do so. Forgiveness is the key even though it may take time for relationships to be repaired. Taking this approach allows us to avoid drinking the Entrepreneur’s Poison.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 134 – 100% TPR.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Entrepreneurial Extinction

The other day it was raining. I usually walk outside – I’m a step-counting junkie – and treadmills don’t do much for me. So, I put on my walking shoes and went to a nearby mall to warm up my Fitbit. There was only one problem. The mall was closed. It was Sunday morning and apparently the mall doesn’t open until noon on Sunday. Needless to say, I was perplexed. During 2017 more than 5,000 stores closed across the nation and purportedly 5,000 more closed during 2018. I say purportedly because I haven’t seen any sort of “official” final tally for 2018. Some media sources report that more than 12,000 stores closed that year. Regardless, bricks and mortar retailers are fighting for their collective lives. They are up against the likes of Amazon and Walmart to name two of their biggest competitors. Amazon is open 24/7 and Walmart stores seem to be open most of the hours people are awake. And yet, the mall I mentioned doesn’t open until noon on Sunday and 10:00 AM on Monday through Saturday. Store (or mall) hours aren’t the only problem for bricks and mortar retail, but they certainly have to be on the list of troubles.

This experience got me to thinking about how some businesses simply fail to change with the times. This isn’t anything new. But by now one would think that the ability to adapt would be case study Numero Uno in the school of entrepreneurship. Let’s look at another example – this one is in the educational sector. For years, we’ve seen tuition spiking at public universities and colleges. According to the College Board, tuition has increased approximately 5% per annum over the past ten years. Meanwhile inflation has averaged 1.66% per year for the same timeframe. Why has this happened? Government-insured student loans have been a major contributor to the upward movement of tuition. Universities have known that they could just keep pushing tuition because students could borrow cheap money to finance the cost. There’s only one problem. The student loan bubble will burst someday, and maybe sooner rather than later. Public funding for higher education has been under pressure for years. Meanwhile, colleges and universities blithely continue to build new buildings and act like the good times will roll forever. There’s scant evidence that leadership is plotting how to adapt to what could become a very scary situation.

The landscape is littered with the carcasses of companies that failed to adapt. During 2018 we saw the death of Sears, Mattress Firm, Brookstone, David’s Bridal, Rockport, Nine West, Claire’s, Toys R Us, iHeartMedia, Gibson’s (the guitar maker) and Bon-Ton to name a few. Many of these companies had accumulated too much debt. Others grew too quickly and saturated the market with stores (Mattress Firm comes to mind). Others clearly kept plodding along with a business strategy that no longer worked.

The Netflix vs. Blockbuster Video story is common knowledge. Blockbuster never came to grips with the fact that streaming services was going to be king of the mountain, pushing the business of renting videocassettes into the abyss. Eastman Kodak failed to understand that digital photography was the future – not film and photographic paper. Yahoo blew it when Google was offering everything for free; yet Yahoo thought it could charge for e-mail and file sharing.

When we as entrepreneurs become comfortable and believe that we have the best idea, we’re probably headed for a fall. Because there’s absolutely no doubt that someone else is already working on the next best idea and may roll it out as early as tomorrow. Dr. Ichak Adizes, CEO of the Adizes Institute and one of the world’s leading management experts has developed a concept he calls the Corporate Lifecycle. He identifies a “Mature” organization as one that is about to experience “The Fall.” He goes on to say, “The leaders of The Fall companies are starting to feel content and somewhat complacent. This attitude has been developing for some time. The company is strong, but it is starting to lose flexibility. It is at the top of its lifecycle curve, but it has expended nearly all the “developmental momentum” it amassed during its growing stages. The rocket is slowing down and starting to change direction and head down the lifecycle curve. The organization suffers from an attitude that says, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ The company is losing the spirit of creativity, innovation, and the desire to change that brought it to Prime (the ultimate phase of the corporate lifecycle). It has sown the seeds of mediocrity.”

There are many lessons to be learned here. As our organizations continue to grow and become rocket ships, it’s critical that we maintain our spirit of creativity, innovation and the desire to change. Always. Every day. Forever.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Podcast 133 – Five Reasons Exponential Growth Can Be Elusive.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

What I Learned From a Non-Entrepreneur

Over the course of our careers, we entrepreneurs spend a lot of time studying other successful entrepreneurs. We try and emulate their good qualities and avoid those traits that are less flattering. This is a smart strategy and can serve us well. However, there is also much we can learn from non-entrepreneurs as well. While this may sound somewhat paradoxical, stick with me here. There is much wisdom that can be gained in our entrepreneurial world by modeling non-entrepreneurs.

My father was a college professor – a scientist who loved research and teaching. As I think back over the course of my short life with him (he died when I was 34), I realize how much I learned from him that has helped me in my entrepreneurial endeavors. My sister and I were both adopted (and we came from different biological parents), so I was not the recipient of any of Dad’s genetics and who knows what was lurking in my biological gene pool. So, I was destined to “learned behaviors” at my father’s knee.

Dad was the most patient person I’ve ever known. As a young boy, I asked him a million questions, and never once did he ever seem exasperated about my constant grilling. Instead, he would smile and remain patient as he explained things for the 40th time. For several years, he performed extensive cancer research, injecting mice with tumor materials and then experimenting with different dosages of a formula that was designed to shrink the tumors. He even drafted my mom into returning to the lab after dinner to help him with this project. He was incredibly dedicated to iteration after iteration, always staying positive and all the while, juggling his other research and teaching assignments. My sense of urgency is extremely high. I certainly don’t have Dad’s level of patience. But by watching him, I’ve learned to be more patient over the long term – it’s patience over the short-term stuff that needs more work on my part.

Unflappable is another word for calm, and my dad was its walking definition. I’ll never forget his best demonstration of his unflappability. Way back in the day, people in my hometown would sometimes burn the grass in their yards in the springtime. The theory was that it helped kill the weeds and promoted a healthier stand of grass in a few weeks. On this particular day, the plan was to create a controlled burn to accomplish this objective. Dad asked Mom to wait for him to change his clothes and they would do this together. Unfortunately, Mom didn’t have Dad’s patience and decided to start the fire without him. A sudden gust of wind caught the flame and a cedar tree on the corner of the house ignited. If you’ve never seen a cedar tree catch fire, it’s a sight to behold. The Biblical image of the burning bush comes to mind. Mom was frantic and raced into the house looking for a fire extinguisher. She passed my dad in the basement but was babbling incoherently, and so he had no idea what was happening. Meanwhile, the next-door neighbor put out the fire with a garden hose; a fire truck showed up; a crowd had gathered, and Dad finally ambled out oblivious to what was happening. I’ll never forget how he reacted at that point. Rather than read my mother the riot act, he grinned and was amused at the commotion that had ensued. Now, some 58 years later, I always remember how I never saw my dad as anything but calm. And I try and mirror his demeanor whenever possible.

Dad was an honest man. Every fiber of his being was honest. We were traveling as a family on a vacation and stopped for fuel. It was a full-service gas station – there was no such thing as self-serve gas in the 1950s and early 1960s. After the gas was pumped, there was the normal scramble of getting kids back in the car from a restroom break; taking the dog to relieve itself and making certain the trailer was still hitched properly. A few miles down the road Dad asked my mom, “Did you pay for the gas?” It was quickly apparent that the we had driven off without paying at which point Dad turned the car around and drove back to the service station and made payment. Interestingly, the station attendant hadn’t even realized that we had left without paying. No one would have ever known that we hadn’t paid for the gas, but Dad’s integrity wouldn’t let this get in the way of doing the right thing.

My father – the non-entrepreneur – modeled many other traits that have been critical to me finding my way as an entrepreneur. His perseverance, his problem-solving abilities, his work ethic, his sense of humor and his passion were all on full display throughout the 72 years of his life. I am blessed to have been loved by him and learned valuable and enduring life lessons from him. Which non-entrepreneur in your life has made a similar difference for you?

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Podcast 132 – How to Be a Great Entrepreneur. 

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Thinking Big by Starting Small

I am a huge proponent of thinking big. I believe that entrepreneurs should embrace the practice of BHAG – that is, setting Big Hairy Audacious Goals. When I mentor other entrepreneurs, I frequently challenge them to think much bigger than they are comfortable. When we are grinding away each day it’s easy to get tunnel vision. It’s easy to become mired in the little things that consume much of our time. As a result, we may forget how big our vision is supposed to be. But here’s a little secret. We can support the notion of thinking big by actually starting small.

I started my real estate career fresh out of college as an apartment manager in 1975. After several months, I had figured out how to operate my 234-unit property in a reasonably effective manner. It wasn’t long before I wanted a greater challenge, and I convinced the owner of the company to allow me to prospect for new property management assignments. I did the research on the market and identified several properties that I thought might be candidates for our services. Then I started knocking on doors. Shortly thereafter I was successful in signing an agreement with a partnership that owned an 18-unit apartment building. I was ecstatic! If I recall correctly, the management fee was a paltry $150 per month – I’m sure we lost money on this property – but I worked tirelessly to prove to the partners that they had made a good decision. They apparently thought so because they expressed their satisfaction to other property owners, and before long we landed a 39-unit building. This was followed by 64-units, 66-units and 120-units. Within a few years we were the dominant management company in that particular market.

Flip the calendar forward a few decades and our development business had been successful. We saw a void in the market for the re-purposing of historic structures into affordable housing in small Midwestern communities. The approach involved utilizing several complicated funding structures that had rarely been utilized. I was certain that the concept would work and had big plans for its implementation. However, to manage risk and to “de-bug” the program, we decided to start small. We acquired four small historic buildings – a former grocery store on the courthouse square of a small town; a couple of hotels built in the late 1800s in two more small towns, and an historic mercantile building in the downtown of a slightly larger town. When fully developed, we had buildings of nine, ten and 18-units – quite small by development standards. Today we are successfully delivering affordable housing that is much larger including properties of 93-units, 139-units and 184-units.

At one point in the early 2000s, we were fortunate enough to be asked to step into a number of smaller affordable housing partnerships as the replacement general partner. At the time the upside wasn’t obvious. We were paid a small upfront fee to take on this role, but the property management fees weren’t significant and the opportunity to monetize these assets (as in sell them) was many years away. My partner wondered several times why we were “messing around” with such small assets.

Here’s what I’ve learned. By taking small steps in the beginning, we have been able to realize big dreams. Over the course of my career, I’ve been involved with procuring the management of nearly 70,000 multi-family units. Our organization has developed affordable housing at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. Those small replacement general partner positions are now resulting in substantial sale proceeds some 15 years later and more. Starting small in all cases helped us build credibility. It helped us build relationships. It allowed us to experiment in a controlled and low-risk fashion. There’s no question it helped us learn what we needed to be successful.

We entrepreneurs are impatient. We covet hockey stick growth. I can tell you that my sense of urgency is off the charts (a fact that my colleagues will attest to emphatically). And yet, had we swung for the fences and tried to hit home runs every time, I’m convinced that our success would not be at the level it is today. Climbing the mountain was hard and it would have been a lot easier for us to simply take a helicopter to drop us at the top. Except that no helicopter can fly high enough to the peaks we want to reach.

Our thinking must be in terms of BHAG. However, we are smart if we use small steps as the building blocks to realizing our big vision.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 131 – An Entrepreneur’s Primer.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Farewell to an Iconic Entrepreneur

On January 3, 2019, one of the legendary icons of entrepreneurship stepped on a rainbow. Herb Kelleher died at age 87 after living a storied life. Kelleher famously co-founded Southwest Airlines in the late 1960s. He was practicing law in San Antonio when a client brought him an idea to launch a new airline in 1967. Competing airlines did everything they could to prevent the new airline, originally incorporated as Air Southwest Company, from getting off the ground. Lawsuits were the only thing flying for several years, and at one point the board told Kelleher that the venture needed to be shut down. Kelleher offered to fight the lawsuits and pay the court costs out of his own pocket at which point the board agreed to stay in business. It took four years and victories at both the Texas and the U.S. Supreme Courts – twice – before Southwest Airlines flew for the first time on June 18, 1971. His resilience and tenaciousness are credited for enabling Southwest to persevere and become the major airline that it is today.

Kelleher was general counsel and served on the board of directors, becoming chairman in 1978. In 1981 he became the full-time CEO and built the airline into a powerhouse as a result of his vision. At the time, the airline industry was highly regulated and when an airline started losing money, it would petition the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) to allow for a fare increase. As a result, it became exceedingly expensive for the public to fly – something that Kelleher saw as the opportunity of a lifetime. Initially Southwest was an intrastate carrier flying within Texas, making flying between Dallas, San Antonio and Houston affordable through ultra-low fares. Over the years the airline started flying outside the state of Texas but was hamstrung by the Wright Amendment – legislation designed to help the legacy carriers and hurt Southwest. The law required that Southwest could not fly from another state directly into Dallas’ Love Field without first stopping in an immediately adjacent state including Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico. I can remember flying from Kansas City to Dallas and having to stop in Oklahoma City to change planes because of this requirement. Eventually the Wright Amendment was defeated in Congress and Southwest was able to operate like any other airline in the country.

Kelleher was a marketing genius and employed numerous outrageous stunts that endeared Southwest to its employees and to the public. He never took himself too seriously and is well known for his love of Wild Turkey bourbon and a daily dose of five packs of Marlboro cigarettes. When it came to compensation, Kelleher chose to take less in cash salary and more stock options. This approach helped considerably with the Southwest labor force (where the CEO was not receiving an exorbitant level of pay) and made him a billionaire two-and-a-half times over. He claims to have been a “flamboyant marketer but was fiscally conservative.” His shrewd financial prowess put Southwest on a path to profitability that is unmatched by any other airline – and few public companies in any industry. Since 1973, the company has been profitable every single year.

For decades, the culture at Southwest Airlines has been studied under a microscope by business schools and business leaders. It’s safe to say that Kelleher defined and sustained that culture for the 20 years he was the CEO and even after he retired in 2001 (he remained chairman of the board until 2008). He spent an enormous amount of time talking to employees and gaining understanding for what was working and what needed to be fixed. He loaded baggage onto planes every Thanksgiving Day; met technicians at 2:00 AM in a maintenance hangar; visited operators at reservation centers and spent time as a gate agent. According to Terry Maxon, in a 2015 article for the Dallas News, Kelleher dressed up like Elvis Presley, a woman, the Easter bunny, a leprechaun and a flight attendant to promote Southwest. Maxon went on to explain the corporate culture was that of a 1) scrappy underdog to the public; 2) fierce warrior to its competitors, and 3) warm, supportive and protective atmosphere for the employees.

Herb Kelleher was a larger-than-life model for us as entrepreneurs to emulate. He had all the requisite entrepreneurial traits – vision, tenacity, resilience, marketing skills, financial acumen, a cultural leader and a genuine love for people. Above all he had a passion for life. They broke the mold when Herb Kelleher left this planet. R.I.P.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link –

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.