It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s the Vice President, Chief Communications Officer of Southwest Airlines, Linda Rutherford.
Being an effective communicator is a highly desirable superpower in a world characterized by constant connectivity. In her senior leadership position at Southwest Airlines, Linda has mastered the art of expressing her opinions to achieve measurable results that advance the goals of her team. Linda is responsible for managing the communication channels between Southwest Airlines’ executive leadership team and the various audiences they serve, which include travelers, government officials, members of the media, and Southwest employees. She prides herself in being the informal Chief Problem Solver of Southwest Airlines. Just as air traffic controllers guide planes through complicated flight patterns, Linda controls the flow of information throughout the Southwest Airlines ecosystem.
Linda developed the skills needed to be a successful communicator through personal reflection and practice. “I used to think I had to be the smartest person in the room to be seen as a credible source,” she explains. “I realized that when you have a perspective, you have to share it. This made me fearless and has been the guiding principle of my career.” Most importantly, Linda learned how to adapt her communication style to an industry that has been redefined by technology. The rise of consumer journalism has made the five o’clock deadline an obsolete term; brands are in continuous conversation with their audience through social digital platforms. With the more personalized nature of this interaction, Linda believes that before a company can address the needs of its customers, it must have a clear understanding of its organizational values.
As an organization comprised of more than 55,000 people, Southwest Airlines has been recognized for its distinctive company culture and dedication to putting people first. Linda describes Southwest Airlines as “a place with an inclusive culture that encourages people to own their work. We try to be extremely transparent to foster a high level of trust and understanding. We want our people to live and work the Southwest way, which means having a servant’s heart complemented by a warrior spirit and a fun-luving attitude.” Linda believes the physical manifestation of the Southwest Airlines brand would be a person who is smart, witty, and fun-loving. This philosophy inspires Southwest Airlines employees to go the extra mile, both literally and figuratively, for their customers. Linda evangelizes that “the purpose of an airline is to connect people to important events in their lives. The simple things, such as giving a free Wi-Fi code to a passenger or sending a gift to a travel blogger, go a long way.”
For young people interested in working for Southwest Airlines, Linda recommends several ways that one can prepare for a job in the communications department. Southwest Airlines is in search of prospective employees that are intellectually curious, resourceful, and comfortable moving quickly as members of cross-functional teams. Before an interview, candidates should have a deep understanding of the business and be able to articulate how the company operates and makes money. Linda also advises applicants to reach out to established professionals who can provide additional insight about the industry and nurture their personal growth.
We are excited to welcome Southwest Airlines as our newest partner company of 2017. Whether you are interested in working in communications like Linda or being an aircraft engineer, Southwest Airlines can provide you with the opportunities for your career to take flight.