Howard Putnam Profile

Learning to fly his father’s Piper Cub airplane as a child on an Iowa farm, Howard Putnam has risen through the ranks of the airline business to become not only one of its most successful CEOs but also a recognized expert in leadership, management and ethics.

Howard began his career in the airline industry as a baggage handler at Midway airport in Chicago for Capital Airlines at age seventeen. Capital merged into United Airlines and Howard rose to become Group Vice President of Marketing for the world’s largest airline.

Moving on to become President and CEO of Southwest Airlines, Howard led a team that tripled both revenue and profits in three years and helped to create the culture of fun and customer prioritization which have become Southwest’s trademark. No other airline has rivaled Southwest’s record for being profitable every year for over three decades.

Subsequently Braniff International recruited Howard as CEO to try to save the company as it plunged into bankruptcy. Howard became the first airline CEO to lead a major carrier successfully through bankruptcy and back into the skies. The Harvard University study of the case, “The Ethics of Bankruptcy,” is used as a model of managing stakeholders in crisis.

Howard is also Chairman of a start-up investment company as well as two manufacturing and distribution companies. His book The Winds of Turbulence sets out his views on leadership and ethics.

  • View Extended/Alternate Bio
      • 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 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.

    In 1978 he was recruited to become President and CEO of fledgling Southwest Airlines in Dallas, TX. While at Southwest Howard 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.

    Howard led the visioning process at Southwest as well as further developing the “fun” culture and excellent customer service that Southwest is still known for today. Southwest has been profitable every year for over thirty years, a record unsurpassed by any other airline.

    In 1981, Howard was recruited by the board of directors of Braniff International to come aboard as CEO and save and/or restructure the financially failing airline. He was the first airline CEO to successfully take a major carrier into, through and out of chapter 11. Braniff flew again in 1984.

    He is the author of The Winds of Turbulence on leadership and ethics. Harvard University wrote a case study on his experiences at Braniff, “The Ethics of Bankruptcy” as a model as to how to handle stakeholders in crisis.

    He has also been an entrepreneur, serving as Chairman of a startup investment company and two small manufacturing and distribution companies.

Howard Putnam Speaking Videos

Bring Howard Putnam to Speak Live at Your Event


Check Speaker Availability

Howard Putnam's Speech Descriptions

Howard Putnam has an extraordinary track record of taking businesses through troubled times and he shares the key secrets for doing so with his audiences. He shows how it is crucial to understand the nature of your own business in order to develop cultures that will support it.

Howard explains how innovation and change can only occur in companies that have an appetite for risk taking and idea implementation; he uses his experience as CEO of Southwest Airlines to show how a company can be reorganized to maximize productivity, customer service, employee satisfaction and profitability.

A passionate believer in the importance of business ethics, Howard uses his experience of taking Braniff International through bankruptcy and out the other side to show how the values he learnt growing up on an Iowa farm are just as applicable to dealing with the world of business.

    Leadership - Successful Strategies Through Turbulent Times
    Leaders must have a clear and concise vision if they want their organizations 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.

    Innovation - Creating a Culture and Process for Ideas to Emerge
    Innovation occurs in organizations 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 organized Southwest for growth and profitability utilizing 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.

    Change - Transforming Organizations Successfully & Profitably
    Many organizations 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" organization that is focused, nimble, flexible, cost effective and able to utilize 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 organizations 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, humor and concrete ideas and suggestions.

    Ethics - The Ultimate Challenge in Ethics; Are You Really the Person Your Dog Thinks You Are?
    Organizations 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 organization.

What People are Saying about Seeing Howard Speak

Rating Entries

    “Outstanding comments from our attendees, Howard was a major highlight and lived up to his Keynote billing.”
    American Pistachio Growers
    (Event booked by

    “First, thanks for the great job you did on our behalf. You are a true professional and I cannot begin to tell you how many great things I′ve heard regarding your keynote. The way you incorporated our executives’ names throughout the speech made it seem as though you are old friends. I wish all speakers took their responsibilities with as much dedication as you do. Again, thanks for all you did on our behalf. Our CEO mentioned it was the best Kick-off in company history. You are a major reason why.”
    BMC Software, Inc.

    “I want to personally thank you for your appearance at the Bank′s Annual Planning Conference. The reviews are in and your presentation was rated as outstanding by the participants. The subject matter and your delivery really hit home with our leadership.”
    Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

    “I′ve always appreciated Howard’s honesty and ethical approach. He shows you pathways to resolve difficulties with many constituencies during good and difficult times.”
    Marriott Corporation

Have You Seen this Speaker? Leave a Star Rating.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Speakers


Need help filling the seats at your next meeting / event?

Call us / email us / check availability and fee for your favorite speaker.

Get in touch
Call us: (760) 656-8770
Toll free in the US: (877) 717-5327