Dec 8, 2022 - Economy

Communicator Spotlight: Linda Rutherford, Southwest Airlines

Photo illustration of Linda Rutherford with an image of clouds in the shape of speech bubbles and an airplane.

Photo illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios. Photo: courtesy of Southwest Airlines

Linda Rutherford has spent 30 years supporting communications at Southwest Airlines. She has advised three CEOs, led a team of roughly 4,000 and weathered a global pandemic that rocked the travel industry.

Why it matters: Rutherford has made a career of "establishing affinity for the Southwest brand, no matter the audience" and recently received the Institute for Public Relations' highest honor — the lifetime achievement award.

📍How she got here: The CBS television series "Lou Grant" influenced her to become a business reporter for the now-shuttered Dallas Times Herald.

  • In 1992, she made the pivot into PR by accepting a coordinator position with Southwest Airlines — and has been there ever since.

🏗 How it’s structured: Rutherford was recently promoted to chief administration and communications officer and reports directly to Southwest CEO Bob Jordan.

  • In this role, she oversees communication and outreach, culture, engagement and HR, diversity, equity and inclusion, internal audit, talent and leadership development, Southwest Airlines University and technology.

🌡 Hardest day at work: On April 17, 2018, Southwest experienced its first passenger fatality in nearly 50 years.

  • While en route from New York to Dallas, the engine of Flight 1380 exploded and a piece of debris hit the side of the airplane, knocking out a window.
  • A passenger was partially pulled out of the window and "over the next 20 minutes, the depressurized cabin air swirled with wind and debris," according to a New York Times report.
  • The plane made an emergency in Philadelphia, where medics were on the tarmac to meet them. There was one fatality and seven injuries.
  • "Every one of our emergency response protocols were put to the test," says Rutherford. "It's the plan that you build, practice and hope to never use ... but I am proud of how the company responded in a timely and compassionate way."

🗣 De-stress routine: An extrovert by nature, Rutherford needs to debrief after a hard day. "Thankfully, I have a great network of friends, coworkers and family who will listen."

✈️ Passport stamps: A perk of the job is travel — her favorite spots are Ireland and Charleston, South Carolina.

  • On her bucket list: Paris, seeing the Northern Lights and a cruise to Antarctica.

🌱 Trend spot: How ESG fits into the corporate narrative and how brands and executives are communicating these principles to stakeholders like vendors, employees, customers and media.

📱Open rates: “Outlook is probably the most used app on my phone because the email traffic is nonstop."

📧 Current unread email count: A little over 100.

  • "The first thing I do in the morning is purge overnight emails. I have my magical formula: deal with it, destroy it or delegate it.”

💡 Best advice: “Stay intellectually curious. Read everything.”

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