Q&A with Southwest Airlines CIO Kathleen Wayton

Kathleen Wayton is the Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer of Southwest Airlines.

What does your job as Southwest Airlines’ CIO entail?

As CIO, I am responsible for leading all of Southwest’s technology functions across four different portfolios, delivering the company’s enterprise-wide strategic initiatives, and providing oversight of all technology products and services.

How did your academic background or previous professional experience prepare you for your current position at Southwest Airlines?

After I graduated college, I started my career at American Airlines as a Reservations Agent. It was in that role that I got my first taste of the airline industry and I loved it! After serving for 18 years in various positions for both Sabre and American, I joined Southwest in 2004 as a Director in Technology. Since joining Southwest, I have served in various leadership roles in both the business and technology departments. Serving in both these capacities gave me a more holistic view of the company, and allowed me to grow in a few key areas, including: developing great teams, empowering individuals, and creative problem solving. Additionally, I have had excellent mentors throughout my career who have undoubtedly helped me get where I am today.

What is your favorite part of your job?

To begin, I work with the most talented group of people, but, personally, the best part about my job is getting to mentor and champion people to grow in areas they didn’t think were possible. There is nothing more rewarding then watching people soar once they realize what they are capable of.

Describe yourself in 3 words.

  1. Focused
  2. Fast
  3. Fun

What qualities do you look for in prospective team members?

At Southwest we look for individuals who already embody our culture and are willing to live and work the Southwest way. To live the Southwest way means that prospects must possess a Warrior Spirit, Servant’s Heart, and Fun LUV-ing Attitude, and to work the Southwest way, prospects must commit to Work Safely, Wow Our Customers, and Keep Costs Low. On top of these requirements, candidates must possess the right skill set, experience, and have a desire to provide value and impact.

What was the most useful class you took in college?

I’m not sure if it was the most useful, but the most enjoyable class I took in college was Art Appreciation. I really enjoyed learning about art history as well as the unique personalities of the different artists, including where they got their inspiration from.

What makes Southwest Airlines’ culture unique?

Our People are our greatest asset; since we take care of them, they take care of our customers. It’s all about following the Golden Rule; treating everyone with respect and putting others first.

How do you spend the first hour of your day?

Well, I’m not a morning person, so I like to start my day with two cups of coffee. Once I get to the office I like to dive right in. I start by reviewing my calendar for the day and then quickly head out for my first meeting. I am more of a night person, so I usually spend my personal time then.

What is the most interesting object you keep on your desk?

My model airplanes, and my favorite being the 737-MAX, our newest aircraft.

What is the mantra you live by?

If you think you can, you will.

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