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Herb Kelleher, who co-founded Southwest Airlines and in doing so challenged traditional businesses by focusing both on low fares and high customer service levels, has passed away at age 87.

In making the announcement, Southwest Airlines did not give a cause of death, though the New York Times notes in its obit that he was “a hard drinker with an ever-present Kool cigarette in his mouth.”

The Times also writes: “By paying his employees well, avoiding layoffs and instilling a spirit of fun in the company’s culture, Mr. Kelleher also set a tone for Southwest that translated into customer loyalty. ‘You have to treat your employees like customers,’ he told Fortune magazine in 2001. ‘When you treat them right, then they will treat your outside customers right. That has been a powerful competitive weapon for us’.”

And, he once wrote: “We market ourselves on the personality and spirit of ourselves. That sounds like an easy claim but, in fact, it is a supremely dangerous position to stake out because if you’re wrong, customers will let you know — with a vengeance. Customers are like a force of nature: You can’t fool them, and you ignore them at your peril.”
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