Southwest Employee Steve Heaser is a career counselor’s nightmare.
He has been a disc jockey, helped compile one of the “Top 100” lists for Billboard magazine, and muses that, given his choice, his ideal job likely would involve designing roller coasters. His interests run from music and art to gourmet cooking, holistic therapies, and travelling with his wife, Jennifer, and their five-year-old daughter, Hannah.
Throughout his nine-year tenure at Southwest Airlines, in fact, he has managed to give new meaning to the airline’s unique philosophy of “hire for attitude, train for skills.”
It is a career that began, normally enough, with a classified ad.
After spending most of college and the ensuing years in what he calls “a young man’s game” — the music industry — the crazy hours began to take their toll. He considered graduate school. And then one day, he picked up the newspaper.
Southwest was looking for people to work at its Dallas Reservations Center. Although Steve had no experience in the aviation field, he did have an interest in computers, and he saw the opening as a chance to get his foot in the door at a company known for rewarding individuality.
“I remember thinking, ‘Southwest is a big Company. Surely they have lots of computers,’” Steve says, jokingly. What he didn’t realize was, Southwest also had lots of applicants. “There were hundreds of people in the room with me. I knew I had to do something a little different to stand out.” Recalling an ad that featured Southwest CEO Herb Kelleher dressed as Elvis, Steve went home, gathered some photos he had taken on a trip to Graceland, scanned them into his computer, and designed an “application” spoofing the connection between Herb and The King.
The job was his. After working as a Reservations Agent for a few years, he moved to the Employee Communications Department at the airline’s headquarters in Dallas as its first graphic designer, where he has helped nurture the quality and visual impact of Southwest’s internal publications for more than six years. He now serves as the department’s team leader for a group of graphic design and Intranet specialists.
As the webmaster for FreedomNet—the internal computer network used by Southwest’s 30,000-plus Employees to access a wealth of Company news, benefits, departmental information, job opportunities, and more—Steve has managed to harness his curiosity and talent yet again to develop a compelling, cutting-edge tool.
All this from a guy who once had a guidance counselor tell him he would never be happy working at a large Company. “Well, I’ve never been happier,” Steve says. Hanging above his desk is a personalized reminder of the value of following your intuition. Written by hand on a framed poster, it says, “Steve, thank you for being an authentic and aesthetic genius!” Signed, “Herb.”