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April 7, 2003

The Sky's The Limit: Herb Kelleher To Give 2003 SMU Commencement Address

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Herb KelleherDALLAS (SMU) -- Herbert D. Kelleher, founder and chairman of the board of Southwest Airlines, will give SMU's 88th annual commencement address at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, May 17, in Moody Coliseum.

In addition to giving the commencement address, Kelleher will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws from SMU. Other honorary degree recipients include SMU Anthropology Professor Emeritus Fred Wendorf, who will receive a Doctor of Science; ambassador Nancy Brinker, founder of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, who will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters; and playwright and screenwriter Horton Foote, who will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters.

Kelleher will discuss unique life and business practices that have made him and his airline one of the most respected and successful in the world, such as putting employees first and stressing the basics. Kelleher's style has made him a much-loved boss in Southwest's company culture. He is known for pitching in wherever needed -- behind the ticket counter, on board planes or on the baggage ramp.

"At a time when varied business organizations are facing considerable challenges, it will be instructive for our graduates to hear from a leader who has been a pioneer in management and human relations," says SMU President R. Gerald Turner. "No matter what careers our diverse graduates will be pursuing, the innovation and imagination exemplified by Herb Kelleher can provide valuable lessons for success. We are delighted that he has agreed to serve as our Commencement speaker."

Southwest Airlines is the nation's fourth-largest air carrier in terms of domestic passengers boarded. When the airline began in 1971, the tiny no-frills airline was perceived as an underdog in the industry. Kelleher, a lawyer by training, fought numerous court battles against bigger competitors, including one lawsuit that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, before Southwest could fly its first route. The company's focus on employee esprit de corps, with fast aircraft turnarounds and low fares, has been a key to its success. In January 2003, Southwest announced its 30th consecutive year of profitability, with annual net income of $241.0 million and no employee furloughs ever. Southwest flies to 58 cities in 30 states.

FORTUNE listed the company as first in the airline industry and second among all industries in the magazine's "2002 America's Most Admired Companies" list. So popular is Southwest Airlines as a company to work for that in 2002 it received 243,657 resumes and hired 5,042 new employees.

Kelleher received his law degree, with honors, from New York University, where he was a Root-Tilden Scholar, and received his undergraduate degree from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., where he was an Olin Scholar.

Recent SMU commencement speakers have included Academy Award-winning actress Kathy Bates; Don Carty, American Airlines president and CEO; and United States Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.