Insights from Dave Harvey, Vice President, Southwest Business
Dave is responsible for leading Southwest’s sales team, which manage relationships, sales programs, services, and B2B channels for corporations, travel management companies, and distributors. He joined Southwest in June 1999 as a Programmer / Analyst supporting various areas of the business, including Crew, Dispatch, Resource Optimization, and Schedule Planning. Dave has also held roles in Corporate Strategy, Commercial Planning & Performance, Network Planning, and Business Development.
How did you navigate the pandemic and how will your pivot in the future to prepare for uncertainty?
As we all know, the pandemic impacted businesses across the globe but probably travel and hospitality got hit the worst. For Southwest, things really became clear that we were entering into an unprecedented era when we started seeing the number of cancelations outpace our bookings, which really had our entire Leadership Team wondering what was happening. While some organizations may have just let this play out, our Team went right to work to get a grasp of the situation, learning more about COVID, and focusing on keeping our people safe and healthy. We also took a step back to pause most of our expenditures and focused on our network to make sure we were still offering air service that’s vital in the communities we serve.
Throughout the entire duration of the pandemic, which appears to be rounding the corner today, we’ve maintained excellent communication with our employees throughout the company, improved our balance sheet, and shifted our network to focus more on our leisure customers, since that’s who is mostly flying us today.
But what makes Southwest different is that we continued to invest in spaces that are important for our customers. While some airlines left cities, we not only maintained air service to all of our domestic destinations, but we seized an opportunity to grow which sets up nicely for the recovery. In fact, since the pandemic began, we’ve added 18 new destinations to our route map including key airports like O’Hare, Colorado Springs, Miami, Savannah, Myrtle Beach, and so many more.
By far, I’m most proud that we accomplished all of this without a single layoff or furlough, which speaks volumes to our Leadership and the focus on our people.
After the difficult year resulting from the pandemic, how do you motivate your team?
Heading into 2020, our team was focused on continuing along our roadmap to revolutionize business travel and making it easier for business travelers to choose Southwest. We were investing in industry-standard corporate booking tools, removing friction that cause organizations to book their business travel away from Southwest, and continued our journey to make Southwest more relevant than ever before in this space.
When the pandemic hit, businesses were among the first to lockdown travel. We worked with our teams to just continue reaching out to their customers and letting them know we were here for them, helping them with refunds and other needs, and ultimately just being a familiar voice or face (if you were on Zoom) to chat with. Today, we’re seeing those relationships pay off as organizations are beginning to thaw their travel restrictions and we’re seeing an uptick in business travelers again.
And while other organizations may have abandoned technology-intense projects, we powered through bringing two of our three new global distribution system (GDS) partners onboard so that we would be in the right place for what we ultimately believe will be a recovery of business travel.
I’m so proud of our people for focusing on the long game and really making sure we’re doing all we can to continue Southwest’s 50+ year mission of connecting customers to the people and places important to them.
What goals do you have for your team that you did not have before the pandemic impacted the industry?
Southwest does an incredible job of planning for the future and the unexpected. While the pandemic definitely was not expected, our teams jumped right into action to quickly adjust our focus to our people and customers’ needs.
As we look ahead, we’re seeing the importance of offering a work-life balance that we’ve always talked about. We need to make sure we’re investing in the tools that allow our teams to conduct their work when and where they are most productive but continuing to foster Southwest’s iconic culture. Today, we’re hiring again and we’re able to really highlight these options as we continue being voted as a top employer.
What are the key characteristics do you believe make an impactful leader?
For me, leadership is about communication and guiding our teams to be the most productive and successful they can be. You need to be able to clearly spell out your goals including answering questions about why it’s important. I also firmly believe that being accessible to your entire team separates managers from leaders.
Where are you making time and financial investments to build a strong company culture?
Southwest celebrated its 50th anniversary on June 18, 2021, marking an incredible milestone in the nation. When Southwest first took off in 1971, 85% of the nation had not traveled because it wasn’t affordable. Today, only 15% of the nation hasn’t travel and that’s a true testament to how Southwest democratized the skies.
And it’s our culture of being a fun LUV-ing airline that continues fostering this success. Without it, we would be just another airline flying people between point A and B. We have a saying — take your job seriously but not yourself — and that’s how I like to lead our teams. If you’re having fun, you’re people will have fun.