Howard Putnam

Former CEO of Southwest and Braniff Airlines

Howard Putnam | NMP Live

As the former CEO of the highly successful Southwest Airlines, Howard Putnam led the fledgling carrier through airline deregulation and the development and implementation of the "vision" that has guided Southwest to revered heights over the past twenty years.

Howard is an author, speaker and advisor on business issues, change, leadership and ethics. He has experienced turbulence many times in his distinguished business career and not only survived, but thrived by taking advantage of the opportunities for change and transformation that turbulent times offer.

In 1978, Howard Putnam was recruited to become President and CEO of fledgling Southwest Airlines in Dallas. While at Southwest, Howard Putnam and his team tripled the revenues and tripled profitability in three years. They also successfully guided Southwest through airline deregulation and Southwest was the first air carrier to order the Boeing 737-300, which later became the largest selling aircraft ever for Boeing.

Southwest tripled in size and tripled in profitability during his tenure, and today is still a corporate model for organisations that put their people first in their culture. Howard Putnam led the visioning process at Southwest as well as further developing the 'fun' culture and excellent customer service for which Southwest is still known.

Howard Putnam was later recruited to be Chairman and CEO of the financially failing Braniff International and became the first CEO to take a major airline through Chapter 11 reorganisation successfully. It was at Braniff that he learned crisis management while rallying 10,000 employees to new heights as they fought to save their company. The reorganisation was accomplished so efficiently, that Harvard University used it as a model and wrote The Ethics of Bankruptcy, a case study for ethically leading an organisation through turbulence.

Howard Putnam's ultimate objective is "bottom line improvement”. He believes that cultures that place people as their no.1 priority have the greatest long-term impact and success. He has an MBA in Marketing from the University of Chicago and completed Harvard's Advanced Management Program.

Howard Putnam was raised on an Iowa farm and learned to fly out of a pasture in his Father's J-3 Piper Cub. He entered the airline business as a baggage handler at Midway Airport in Chicago for Capital Airlines at age 17. Capital was soon merged into United and Howard Putnam held thirteen different positions in sales, services and staff assignments in several cities, before being named Group Vice President of Marketing for United Airlines, the world's largest airline, in 1976.

Howard Putnam has also been an entrepreneur, serving as Chairman of a start-up investment company and two small manufacturing and distribution companies.

Speech Topics

Successful Strategies Through Turbulent Times
Leaders must have a clear and concise vision if they want their organisations to survive and thrive through turbulence. A clear understanding of what business you are really in is critical. Cultures can then be developed to support the vision and business. Bottom line improvement comes through your people. Howard shares his principles of leadership and outlines key strategies to navigate turbulence successfully.

Creating a Culture and Process for Ideas to Emerge
Innovation occurs in organisations that embrace a culture for risk taking and idea implementation. Howard Putnam proved this philosophy works when he was CEO of Southwest Airlines. He positioned and organised Southwest for growth and profitability utilising a very flat management structure with decision-making and idea development imbedded in everyone's job scope and responsibility. Individuals and teams were rewarded for risk taking and for designing out of the box processes and improvements in productivity, customer service, cost containment, safety and profitability. Brands develop when people thrive in the vision and experience.

Transforming Organisations Successfully & Profitably
Many organisations are out of alignment in the current turbulent environment. Their design is outdated with bureaucracy and a hierarchy that is expensive and inefficient. Howard Putnam will show you how to transform your business into a "flow state" organisation that is focused, nimble, flexible, cost effective and able to utilise the "stages of turbulence" which he will identify for you to take advantage of being in a change state.

People and Culture
Hiring Attitudes & Developing Their Skills
Successful organisation that are in business for the long term, place their people first if they want sustained bottom line improvement. Howard Putnam led the visioning process at Southwest Airlines in which a key element was the culture, putting their people first and matching attitudes with the culture. Happy employees and superior customer service resulted from this concept. He will share behind the scenes looks on how this was accomplished with great stories, humour and concrete ideas and suggestions.

The Ultimate Challenge in Ethics; Are You Really the Person Your Dog Thinks You Are?
Organisation cannot ignore the need for proactive efforts to ingrain honesty, integrity and trust at every level. Today's environment requires ethical leaders, if they want their businesses to survive and grow. Howard Putnam learned the values of trust and honesty as he grew up on an Iowa farm. He has embodied those principles in his successful business career. He took on the challenge of saving Braniff International only to find the "books had been cooked" prior to his arrival. He will share this character building experience of taking a major airline through Chapter 11 successfully and offer a flight plan for you to implement in your organisation.


Howard Putnam was the best professional speaker I have ever had the privilege to work with. He has a solid understanding of our industry and our business goals. His style is one that makes you want to listen. His views on people, vision and ethics are sorely needed today. If you want to begin or end your conference with an everlasting bang, Howard Putnam is your man.

Tim Carmack, National Distribution Manager - DuPont Performance Coatings.

Howard helped our leaders get out of our "box" by discussing challenges and difficult changes that the airlines industry and certain companies have gone through and how they succeeded (or failed). It was an easy leap to see how the business challenges they faced have similarities to our own, and how strong, inspirational leadership rises above the challenges to ensure success. Further, his message is one of not just accepting change and playing the game as we know it, but rather rising to the challenge and changing the way the game is played. From his personal stories and with his charming wit, Howard inspired us all to give our very best every day and enjoy ourselves while we're doing it.

Gulf Power Company.

I've always appreciated Howard Putnam's honesty and ethical approach. He shows you pathways to resolve difficulties with many constituencies during good and difficult times.

J.W Marriott.

Our folks have not stopped talking about your speech. They are revering you as a truly authentic leader. Thank you so much for helping make our event a success.

BP North America Gas & Power.

Howard, thank you for your enlightening presentation you gave to the La-Z-Boy leadership group. We wanted to leave our team on a high, and you certainly helped us achieve that with your inspiring and motivational remarks. Your presentation about keeping things simple, never losing your values and having a little luck all resonated with our organisation, and it was delivered with such self-effacing humour that everyone could relate to the story and successes you've experienced in your life and career. Thanks for helping to make our leadership meeting a huge success.

La-Z-Boy, Inc.

It was a real pleasure having you join us. Your remarks were great and we have received many positive comments. Thank you for taking the time to prepare. It was obvious you took the time to get to know us.

Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia.

Thanks for coming to the meeting and thanks for the great presentation. You made a big impact on the group, the feedback from the audience was uniformly positive. And yes, the team left on a 'high'.


Howard Putnam is a powerful speaker who can relate to his audience through his perspective into the culture of an organisation and humorous introspect.


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Howard Putnam | NMP Live
Howard Putnam

Former CEO of Southwest and Braniff Airlines

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