If you want to understand the nonconformist culture of Southwest Airlines, you’ve got to start with its holiest site: the shrine to Herb. Walk into the company’s headquarters, located in a five-story gray building next to the Love Field airport in Dallas, go past the front desk, and proceed down a broad hallway until you get to a horseshoe-shaped employee lounge with a soaring atrium. There you’ll find a museum of sorts honoring Southwest’s Wild Turkey–swilling, Marlboro-smoking co-founder and former CEO, Herb Kelleher. In one towering poster on the wall he’s shown hamming it up in a sequined Elvis costume; in another he’s arm wrestling an aviation rival for charity. Push a red button and you can hear a recording of three versions of Kelleher’s famous laugh—the guffaw, the chortle, and the roaring belly buster. On the walls there are embossed plaques with a selection of his favorite sayings, none more emblematic than this gem: “If you rest on your laurels, you’ll get a thorn in your butt.” ... The company is in the process of reworking or jettisoning altogether much of Kelleher’s tried-and-true strategy—with plans to fly in a totally new strategic direction. In fact, after years of consistently outsmarting and outperforming the traditional carriers, Southwest is today remaking itself to operate more like them. ... The goal? To attract more of the most lucrative customers: high-fare-paying business travelers flying long distances.
Over its 118-year history, Bechtel has arguably changed the face of the physical world more than any other company, anywhere. Here’s a short list of its signature projects: the Hoover Dam (completed in 1936), the Trans-Arabian Pipeline (1950), the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (1976), NASA’s Space Launch Complex 40 (1992), the Channel Tunnel (1994), and the Athens Metro (2004), not to mention Jubail in Saudi Arabia, where Bechtel has been overseeing the construction of one of the world’s largest industrial cities for over 40 years. It recently completed the Hamad International Airport in Qatar, which is built to eventually handle more than 50 million passengers a year (matching the traffic at New York’s J.F.K.). And with BrightSource Energy, it constructed the Ivanpah solar electric complex, a landscape of 350,000 heat-generating mirrors in California’s Mojave Desert that’s the largest solar-thermal plant on the planet. ... Bechtel is currently overseeing a major portion of Crossrail, the largest infrastructure installation in Europe—a network of tunnels and rail links in London that will connect the city to the outer suburbs. And the company has developed the first liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal in the continental United States. ... The parade of projects has made Bechtel one of the half-dozen largest privately held companies in the U.S., with $40 billion in 2015 revenue, outranking the likes of chocolate giant Mars and grocery chain Publix. ... In an increasingly competitive environment, the company needs to be able to attract the best engineers and managers to thrive. Today those elite recruits demand to understand the values of the companies that are wooing them. “Ours is a people business that depends on fielding the most capable project teams in the world,” he says. Like many other major private companies, Bechtel’s leaders feels they can no longer afford to hide behind its closely held status and let others control the narrative about its business. ... Bechtel must win on competence, not contacts. It’s all about a company’s ability to deliver a job on schedule and on budget, at the lowest cost.