- Richest Business › CEOs
- Net Worth:
- $2.5 Billion
- Date of Birth:
- Mar 12, 1931 - Jan 3, 2019 (87 years old)
- Lawyer, Businessperson
- United States of America
What was Herb Kelleher's Net Worth?
Herb Kelleher was a billionaire airline businessman and lawyer who had a net worth of $2.5 billion at the time of his death in January 2019. Herb Kelleher was the co-founder, Chairman Emeritus, and former CEO of Southwest Airlines. Under his two decades of leadership, the airline achieved success through a strategy of low fares and point-to-point transit, among other notable features. Kelleher won a number of awards for his accomplishments, including the Tony Jannus Award and the L. Welch Pogue Award for Lifetime Achievement in Aviation. Southwest is consistently named among the top five Most Admired Corporations in America and its stock price increased over 4,000% under Herb's leader between its IPO in 1982 and Herb's death.
Early Life and Education
Herbert Kelleher was born on March 12, 1931 in Camden, New Jersey and grew up in the borough of Audubon. There, he went to Haddon Heights High School. For his higher education, Kelleher attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, graduating with a bachelor's degree in English. He went on to obtain his JD from the New York University School of Law.
Career Beginnings in Law
After graduating from NYU, Kelleher clerked for a New Jersey Supreme Court justice. He then relocated to Texas with the intention of establishing a law firm. In 1969, he became a partner in Oppenheimer, Rosenberg, Kelleher & Wheatley.
Southwest Airlines Founding
In 1966, Kelleher and businessman Rollin King, who was one of his legal clients, founded the concept that would later become Southwest Airlines. Originally, their plan was to connect the Texas Triangle with low-cost air service. The company was incorporated as Air Southwest Co. in 1967. Following that, Kelleher and King faced four years of legal challenges from their competitors, who decried the company's strategy of offering low fares by flying exclusively within Texas and thus being made exempt from various regulations. The lawsuits were ultimately resolved in the early 70s in the US Supreme Court and Texas Supreme Court. In 1971, the company officially became Southwest Airlines, and began its first intrastate flights between Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.
Southwest Airlines Success
Southwest expanded its reach to additional cities in Texas in 1975, and began serving adjacent states in 1979. During this time, Kelleher became the company's chairman of the board. In 1981, he was appointed as CEO and president. Under his leadership, Southwest achieved success through a number of unique features, including low passenger fares, the exclusive use of Boeing 737 aircrafts in its fleet, and the employment of the point-to-point transit system. In the 90s, the company began service to the American East. Due to its customer-focused model, Southwest has been consistently listed as among the most admired companies in the US in Fortune magazine's annual poll.
In 2001, Kelleher stepped down as Southwest's CEO and president, but remained as chairman. He later stepped down as chairman in 2008, and the same year resigned from the board of directors. Kelleher was subsequently named chairman emeritus and was given an office at Southwest Airlines headquarters, remaining with the company until his passing in 2019. The company continues its success today with flights to more than 100 destinations across the US as well as Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.
Among his other business positions, Kelleher became the chair of the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas in 2011. Before that, he served as deputy chair. Kelleher's term as chair expired in 2013.
Accolades and Honors
Over the course of his career, Kelleher received more than 100 accolades and honors for his work in business and aviation. Some of his most notable laurels included the Tony Jannus Award for outstanding leadership in the commercial aviation industry; the Bower Award for business leadership; and the L. Welch Pogue Award for Lifetime Achievement in Aviation. Kelleher was also inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame, the National Aviation Hall of Fame, and the International Air & Space Hall of Fame in San Diego, California.
Personal Life and Death
Kelleher was married to Joan Negley, whom he met on a blind date when they were both college students. It was she who introduced him to Texas. The couple had four children named Julie, Michael, David, and Ruth.
In 1999, Kelleher was diagnosed with prostate cancer, for which he was successfully treated. He passed away in early 2019 in Dallas, Texas at the age of 87.