Few have led lives as remarkable as Colleen Barrett. As many strive to learn from her and follow in her footsteps, perhaps the best place to start is at the beginning—by examining the life of the remarkable woman herself.
It’s no secret that much of the success of Southwest Airlines® centers on its People-first Culture. Colleen Barrett built a Culture at Southwest® that treated every Employee like Family. A concept often admired around the world, but rarely replicated. For almost 50 years, it has inspired tremendous loyalty from Employees and Customers.
Prior to joining Southwest in 1978, Colleen worked for several years as an Executive Assistant to Southwest Founder, Herb Kelleher, at his law firm. Colleen oversaw management, Leadership, and budget responsibilities for a variety of areas/groups. She was a member of the Southwest Executive Planning Committee and chaired numerous special Teams, task forces, and committees relating to Internal and External Southwest Customers. Colleen also became the first woman president in the airline industry when she assumed the role in 2001. Her influence on the unique Culture of Southwest since the very beginning is indelible, and she is beloved by the Southwest Family.
Colleen has been a driving force and is credited for developing Southwest’s Legendary Customer Service, which became the gold standard not only for airlines but for many customer-facing companies. She was notorious for writing letters back to Customers, sending heartfelt notes to Employees when she saw something that impressed her, and so much more.
In 1990, Colleen had the vision to start the Companywide Culture Committee with the purpose of inspiring Employees to own, strengthen, and promote the Culture. The committee grew from its original 48 members to more than 350 active members and alumni today and continues to evolve to support more than 104 locations in the Southwest system.
Colleen is currently President Emeritus of Southwest. Prior to stepping down as the Company’s President on July 15, 2008, she oversaw management, Leadership, and budget responsibilities over the following areas/groups:
- the Senior Vice President Marketing (Marketing, Sales & Distribution; Online Marketing; Revenue Management & Pricing)
- the Senior Vice President Corporate Communications (Pass Bureau; Emergency Response; Public Relations & Community Affairs; Community Relations & Charitable Giving; Employee Communications; Legislative Awareness)
- the Senior Vice President Chief People & Administration Officer (People [Human Resources]; Leadership Development & Training; Manager in Training programs; University for People; Performance Reviews; Talent Development; Onboarding Program)
- the Vice President Customer Relations & Rapid Rewards
- the Vice President Labor & Employee Relations (Labor & Employment Law; Employee Relations; FMLA/ADA; Labor Relations & Negotiations)
- the Vice President Reservations; the Director Corporate Security
Colleen also co-authored with Ken Blanchard the book Lead with LUV: A Different Way to Create Success (2010).
Colleen served as a member of the Board of Directors from 2001 to May 2008 and as Corporate Secretary from March 1978 to May 2008. She served as Vice President Administration from 1986 to 1990, Executive Vice President Customers from 1990 to 2001, President and COO from 2001 to 2004, and President from 2004 to July 2008.
Colleen is divorced; has one son and one grandson. Throughout her career she was active in numerous civic and charitable organizations, and has served on several business advisory boards and commissions.
Business Awards and Honors
Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy, National Aeronautic Association (2016)
Special Recognition Honoree at Dallas High Tea with High Heels (2014)
Go-Giver Lifetime Achievement Award (2012)
Texas Business Hall of Fame (2011)
Honorary Doctor of Humanities, Saint Mary’s College (2011)
Honorary Doctor of Business Management, Grand Canyon University (2010)
Texas Lutheran University Excellence in Leadership Award (2009)
The Transport Workers Union National President Jim Little announced on behalf of local TWU 550, 555, and 556 that, in an unprecedented action, Colleen Barrett was now an honorary lifetime member of the TWU “In grateful appreciation of [her] career of fairness and support for the unionized workers at Southwest Airlines. We love our workplace due to [her] efforts.” (December 2008)
William Shea Award (2008)
Recognized as one of the Top 25 Most Influential Women by the Dallas Business Journal’s Women in Business (2008)
Texas Labor Management Hall of Fame (2008)
Tower Award, National Association of Women Business Owners, Cleveland (2008)
Dallas YWCA Centennial Award 100 Women, 100 Years (2008)
Purple Boot Award, Women’s Chamber of Commerce of Texas (2008)
Tony Jannus Award Winner (2007)
Junior Achievement’s Dallas Business Hall of Fame (2007)
Girls Inc. Honoree (2007)
Outstanding Woman in Aviation Award (2007)
World’s 100 Most Powerful Women: Forbes.com (2004-2007)
Texas CASA’s Lone Star Champions For Kids Award (2005)
Horatio Alger Award (2005)
Women in Aviation, International Pioneer Hall of Fame (2005)
Texas Trailblazer Award (2005)
IWF Woman Who Makes A Difference Award (2004)
Aiming High Honoree: National Organization of Women (2003)
Featured in Texas Women—Trailblazers, Shining Stars & Cowgirls (2003)
Distinguished Women’s Award: Northwood University (2003)
Women in the Economy-Woman of the Month: NCPA (2003)
50 Most Powerful Women in Business: Fortune (2003, 2002)
100 Most Influential Women in Aviation: Women in Aviation International (WAI) (2003)
Woman of Distinction Award: Birmingham-Southern College GALA XVI (2003)
Top 50 Leaders: Fast Company Magazine (2003)
Business People of the Year: Dallas Business Journal (2002)
Best Managers: BusinessWeek (2002)
Women’s Leadership Exchange Compass Award (2002)
Lifetime Achievement Award: Virginia Aviation Award (2002)
eComm Ten Awards: Business Wire, Inc. (2002)
Louise Raggio Pathfinder Award: National Association of Women Business Owners (2002)
Kupfer Distinguished Executive Award (2002)
People to Watch: Fortune Magazine (2002)
Staples Store Dedication in Claremont, NH (2002)
America’s Most Powerful Business Women: Fortune Magazine (2001)
Texas Business Woman of the Year: Texas Women’s Chamber of Commerce (2001)
Mentor of the Month: Women’s Enterprise (2000)
The Most Powerful Women in Travel: Travel Agent Magazine (several years)
Business and Civic Affiliations
Board of Directors of the Foundation for Women’s Resources
Board of Directors of the Dallas Hearing Foundation
Charity Leadership Council, Catholic Charities of Dallas
The Ken Blanchard College of Business-Advisory Board
Board of Trustees Becker College
Board of Directors of JCPenney Company, Inc.
Board of Directors of the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan Dallas, Inc.
Member, The Dallas Forum
Member, International Women’s Forum
Southwest Airlines Co. — President Emeritus, July 2008-present
Southwest Airlines Co. — President, 2004-July 2008
Southwest Airlines Co. — President & COO, 2001-2004
Southwest Airlines Co. — Board of Directors, 2001-2008
Southwest Airlines Co. — Executive Vice President-Customers, 1990-2001
Southwest Airlines Co. — Vice President-Administration, 1986-1990
Southwest Airlines Co. — Corporate Secretary, 1978-2008
Colleen: "That we've been a maverick, and a successful one. I guess both are important points."