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Andy Griffith (1926-2012)


There once was this here fella who was so talented that he made his way from a-recitin’ monologues–that’s whar a feller commenced to talkin’ to th’ audience when thar was no one else on stage.  Well, he went from recitin’ monologues in fronta jest a few folks all the way up t’ becomin’ a big ol’ Hollywood star!  A biiiiiig star!  Bigger’n ol’ Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy combined!

The world lost a superb actor and comedian yesterday and I lost a prominent figure from my childhood.  I remember watching The Andy Griffith Show evenings on “Channel 17” (WTBS, Atlanta) or, more often, on homemade VHS “marathon tapes” (usually recorded from a TBS “Eight Great Hours of Andy” marathon).  In high school, I managed to use his interpretation of Romeo and Juliet to ace a class project and quoting his recollection of the story of the American revolution landed me extra points in college.  I most recently rediscovered my love of his work when I watched No Time For Sergeants, and began using some of his monologues from the film in audition pieces.

To eulogize anyone has really been outside of my realm of expertise, but I feel like a celebration of his career is in order.  To wit, here is a short list of my favourite bits from Andy Griffith to enjoy.

Southwest Airlines, “Bringing the LUV”: A Strategic Recommendation Proposal


Author’s Note:  This was originally written and published as an academic paper early in 2010, before Southwest’s decision to purchase AirTran was announced.  The material exists as it was originally written with only images added for the purposes of this blog.

Hailed as a scrappy, start-up, small-market airline, Southwest Airlines has taken an unconventional attitude toward the air travel industry and turned itself into the most profitable company in the business. Throughout its history, Southwest has had to fight tooth-and-nail, quite literally, for its very existence. It’s this warrior attitude that has developed into a tongue-in-cheek approach to marketing and a vehement sense of doing right by the customer; which has, in turn, developed into a business strategy that has kept the company growing for over thirty years.

Since its inception, Southwest’s mission has been a “dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.” The company focuses on this mission through an extremely selective hiring process that ensures all employees fit within the corporate culture believing that truly fun-loving and spirited employees bring superior customer service through their inherent attitudes that are allowed to shine without the confining regulations and propriety that so many other airlines practice. Southwest employees routinely go the extra mile to help a customer because—by and large—they genuinely care about making people happy. Just as most other wildly successful companies, Southwest’s philosophy agrees that happy employees translates into happy customers and happy stockholders.

Plain and Simple

In 2004, when Gene Kelly took over as CEO from Herb Kelleher, he formally instituted the four factors and five strategic objectives that had become and, as he said, would continue to be the guiding principles of Southwest Airlines’ continued success. Hiring great people and “treat ’em like family” is the first factor which is illustrated through the airline’s extremely selective interview process and extremely generous wage and benefits schedule. Southwest employees have, on average, made more than their rival counterparts without taking massive pay cuts during hard economic times through a conservative financial plan as well as stock options that have grown as considerably as the company has over the years. Second, Southwest cares for customers “warmly and personally, like they’re guests in our home” because it only hires employees who genuinely care for people. Third, Southwest pledges to keep fares lower than anyone else through safety, efficiency, and operational excellence. The company’s 25-minute turnaround goal can only be achieved through efficiency and teamwork where ground and flight crews all work together to have a plane ready to board within the specified time limit. When faced with glaring safety violations tarnishing the company’s near-perfect safety record, Southwest acts with integrity by alerting and working with federal inspectors to make sure aircraft are repaired and maintenance is brought current—despite the possibility of fines and other potential penalties (lost revenue, for example), which is far outweighed by the potential company-ending disaster that could occur otherwise. Finally, staying prepared for hard times has helped the company weather the economic recessions and skyrocketing fuel costs. Southwest maintains strong liquidity and aggressive fuel hedging which keeps them afloat while other, larger airlines are haemorrhaging money, raising fares, declaring bankruptcy, and merging out of existence. Southwest’s five strategic objectives build and restate the four factors while adding the goal of offering customers a convenient flight schedule to places that they actually want to go. This has allowed Southwest to realise its goal of bringing the American public the “Freedom to Fly” almost anywhere, at any time, and for a low price.

Southwest had the second-lowest losses in Q4, and was the only airline on this list to turn a profit for 2008.

By utilising aggressive cost-cutting measures, such as their trademark no-frills flight service, point-to-point route structure, single-model fleet, and fuel hedging, Southwest Airlines currently enjoys one of the lowest operating costs per passenger seat mile—13.85 cents in first quarter of 2008, a feat that can not be duplicated by other airlines (the closest, America West, reports 15.58 cents per passenger seat mile). In addition, Southwest maintains large cash reserves ($16.77 billion in 2007) as compared to the industry average. The airline’s volume strategy of selling full planeloads for lower fares than selling fewer seats for higher prices has led to historically high revenues for the company as well, as less money is wasted flying full rather than empty seats. Not only boarding more passengers per flight, but also quicker turnarounds leads to more available seat miles, which, after filling those seats, leads, again, to larger revenues. These elements have put Southwest in a position of being, financially, the strongest airline in the United States as of the fourth quarter 2008.

Due to the nature of how it conducts business, Southwest Airlines enjoys many competitive strengths. The airline has enjoyed unprecedented growth since 1971 driven by a simple fare structure, low costs, and impeccable customer service. The company also maintains a fleet of one aircraft type, which saves on parts inventories and maintenance training costs as well as provides them with incentives such as volume discounts and flexible financing options. Strong, simple loyalty programs help to build lasting relationships with repeat customers. Southwest’s desirable corporate culture also makes it able to be highly selective during its interview process for new hires, making sure the company hires only the best of the best applicants.

One major weakness in Southwest’s product is its lack of seating options. Passengers must arrive early to be more selective about their seating arrangements, which may aggravate some passengers and turn them off to the experience. Because it only flies smaller Boeing 737 aircraft, cargo space is limited, and increased revenues from less price-elastic cargo transport must be foregone in favour of highly price-elastic passenger miles. Also, being reliant on one producer for aircraft creates some level of dependency on Boeing that may prove a strategic weakness if aircraft prices change. Southwest also does not offer any international flights, even to popular tourist destinations in Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean—missing out on the very lucrative vacationing market segment.

Southwest has always been a leader in incorporating advanced technologies into their business model. The airline was among the first to utilise electronic ticketing as well as adding winglets to improve efficiency in their aircraft fleet. By continuing to seek advanced technologies, Southwest has the opportunity to gain significant competitive edges against its competitors during the adoptive phase of the new technologies (which can last upwards of ten years, in some cases). Southwest can also consider expanding into markets not already served by the airline, especially smaller markets in the southeast and central United States with little or no competition.

Several threats face Southwest Airlines, as well as their competitors. Chief among these is the price of jet fuel and other petroleum derivatives that are essential in aircraft maintenance. Currently, a slowing domestic economy has reduced the amount of leisure travelers while commute alternatives such as teleconferencing have reduced the need for business travel. Increasing federal regulatory action also threatens Southwest, especially in light of recent safety violations that caused a significant portion of the fleet to be grounded for inspections and repairs. Not only FAA regulatory action, but also ever-increasing demands for security protocols from the TSA threaten air travel by making it inconvenient for many people, either through outrageous screening processes or increased costs of passenger screening, which is then passed back onto the customer.

The bargaining power of the buyer in this market is quite high, as there are several options in each market on which a potential customer can choose to fly, and the services offered are relatively standard at this point. Typically, he who offers the lowest price is going to attract the most customers, which is where Southwest typically displays some advantage. In addition, the threat of substitutes is high as well for the same reasons—undifferentiated services and proliferation of competitors. Southwest has also set themselves in a situation where their suppliers have a high level of power as well. While maintaining a fleet of only one aircraft type significantly reduces the cost of warehousing parts and training mechanics as well as simplifying maintenance logistics, it puts all bargaining power in the hands of the manufacturer, Boeing. Any decision to increase prices of aircraft or parts can force Southwest to succumb to those extra costs under threat of grounding the entire fleet. Fuel suppliers also keep a choke-hold on the industry as a whole as they control the means of production (in this case, the distribution of fuel—without which, there can be no flights). However, Southwest has been able to mitigate the effect of fuel costs by their aggressive hedging strategy. Competitive rivalry is also quite high in the airline industry. There are many competitors and, such is the case in periods of slow economic activity, each one plays a price game to entice customers away from the others in order to keep their operations at sustainable levels.

One piece of good news for Southwest, considering Porter’s Five Forces model, is that the threat of new entrants is low. There is a lot of cost and capital investment associated with starting an airline, and, especially in periods of slow economic growth, the risk often far outweighs the reward. Established brand names—often legacy airlines—tend to survive the troughs better than small start-ups, especially when customers are not patronising as they do during peak economic times. Loyalty programs become paramount, discouraging changeover and promoting the strong brand names that already exist in the marketplace.

Southwest Airlines seems to be doing almost everything right, but, even still, there are two notable strategies that the company can implement for continued growth across all market segments. Currently, Southwest offers no partnerships with other air carriers for international or tertiary domestic markets. Southwest can “extend the LUV” to these smaller domestic markets by partnering with regional airlines that provide shuttle service to the larger markets. In addition, Southwest can partner with larger international carriers to enhance their global reach from entry ports such as LaGuardia (for European travel) and LAX (for destinations to and from Asia and Oceania). Such partnerships may seem counter-intuitive to Southwest’s self-reliant culture, but as the global community becomes smaller, airline partnerships will become inherently more important.

The other major consideration, and presently the most important, for Southwest’s continued expansion is the acquisition of rival airlines. This may be the most important step in enhancing Southwest’s domestic presence because it opens up previously-untapped markets to Southwest’s lower-cost, simplified structure. Utilising the company’s large war chest, motions to purchase AirTran or JetBlue can easily be made during the economic slowdown. Both of these airlines are of particular strategic interest because—by and large—they operate in markets that are not currently serviced by Southwest, including major presences in tourist destinations in the Caribbean and business travel destinations in Canada. Also of singular interest is the fact that both competitors operate a fleet of Boeing 737’s, which will—unlike Delta’s acquisition of Northwest’s “hodgepodge” fleet—ease transition costs by not forcing Southwest to retrain mechanics or attempt to unload unused aircraft inventory on an already saturated market as well as by keeping maintenance costs relative to the size of the fleet, thereby not negatively affecting overall costs per available seat mile.

My Spoofy Granny: J.I. Chases A Spook


Meet Thelma (aka “Granny”), the spoofiest octogenarian in west Cobb County, Georgia.  She has more stories than you can shake a stick at, and I am going to attempt to compile them for posterity.  Watch, listen, rate, like, and follow!

In this first installment, Granny recollects the story of how Grumpy (J.I.) chased after a strange noise in the night.

Coast To Coast In Ten Minutes


Just a quick video concept project I threw together this week.  It’s comprised of recycled footage from The Great American Road Trip and set to some great road rock.

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The Great American Road Trip (Part 1)


Westbound and down, eighteen wheels a-rollin’; we’re gonna do what they say can’t be done.  We got a long way to go, and a short time to get there.  I’m westbound just watchin’ Bandit run!

Jerry Reed

For those of you who have not been following on YouTube (shame on you, go there now and click “Subscribe”), I’ve been assembling my video documentary for The Great American Road Trip piecemeal for your enjoyment.  In the meantime, I’ve also been working on a web design project that will bring in a little extra scratch and it’s all back to branding and selling myself in this lousy economy.  Carry on, good citizens!

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3
Part 4 Part 5 Part 6

Raptors Resume Test Flights


The F-22 was approved initially to give the Air Force a next-generation stealthy aircraft to evade ever improving enemy air defenses. But a funny thing happened: Our enemies’ air defenses stopped improving.

Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan, 2006

Good news for the folks back in Marietta, the F-22 has resumed operational test flights after a four-month grounding following several major malfunctions of the next-generation avionics.  It seemed a little prophetic that the demonstration at this year’s Sun N Fun was cut short because of a master caution stemming from the avionics.  It’s been a rocky road for the program, with sweeping defense cuts brought on by the Obama Administration being the final nail in the coffin for the world’s only 5th-generation fighter jet.

Personally, I’m divided on the issue–I appreciate the Raptor for everything it’s capable of, but I agree that it’s a bit of a beast and almost unnecessary when F-15 Eagles and F/A-18 Super Hornets can get the job done en masse.  However, if (when?) WWIII finally breaks out, and dogfighting once again becomes a necessary form of warfare, it’ll be nice to have a fleet of stealth fighters that can out-turn and out-fire the enemy.  That, and they just look so cool doing it.

Read the full story here (via Planenews)

Stream Of Consciousness At 38,000 Feet


Author’s Note:  This was written during my latest flight from LAX to ATL the morning of September 7, 2011.

By my best estimates (I know neither my ground speed, nor my heading), I’m somewhere over Colorado at FL380.  That part isn’t terribly important, though.  I took the liberty of taking out my lappy just for something more active than reading my book.  Anyway, so I’m doing a little half-assed Photoshop job and listening to Sirius Laugh USA, and I recognized the opening bars of a familiar ditty.  So, I was immediately taken to a place in my childhood when I suddenly remembered not only the tune, but the lyrics to Schoolhouse Rock’s “Interjections!” and immediately let my fellow passengers know about it.  Much to their surprise.

Well, not really, but I did manage to enjoy some Schoolhouse Rocks on this otherwise uneventful AirTran flight.  Speaking of which, my (hilariously gay) coworker–who, mind you, prides himself as a seasoned traveler–has, apparently, never heard of AirTran Airways.  I say this because he said that he had never heard of AirTran Airways, and because he was extremely excited about the potential flight attendants.

“Go, there’s nothing stopping you”

Okay, so flying on AirTran, and I gotta say that it’s better this time than the last time I flew this route.  I have money now, well, I have SOME money now…OKAY, well, I have a JOB now…so I sprung the extra $20 for some legroom on the exit row.  Quite possibly the best Jackson I’ve ever spent.

DISTRACTIONS

The last time I flew AirTran, it was certainly akin to the “Cattle Car” airways that their new parent brand is infamous for:  cramped, uncomfortable seating on overcrowded planes with minimal in-flight service.  This was not all that long ago.  Spring break.  2011.  The plane looked like it was a refugee from the 1970’s with its yellowed plastic trim and vinyl seat cushions.  “Newest fleet?”  I think the one I was riding to LAX in March was leftover from the ValueJet days.  (Glad it didn’t explode….)

AirTran is a different animal now.  At least on this plane.  In-flight Internet for twelve bucks (which is still above my price point–I’ll pay extra for some more room, but I can’t bring myself to pay for connectivity in the sky.  The seats are comfy…

DRINK SERVICE!

…I know, I’m writing this as if I were taking dictation from Up‘s Doug.  I’m a little distracted from having been “awake” since 0500 Pacific.  I think it might be time to go back to the novelization of Rise of The Planet of The Apes, also known as Dark Inheritance by Michael & Kathleen Gear.

I Hate To Brag, But….


That’s the 5-Day forecast for my little section of California.  This is the 5-Day for my hometown in Georgia:

Take heart, my friends in Metro Atlanta.  Just remember, I’ve spent the last three years dealing with this weather–with higher humidity and often wearing a flight suit inside a plexiglass bubble with no shade or hope of air conditioning:

Seriously, though, if you’re suffering under this heat wave, my heart goes out to you–I spent many summers in the heat and humidity of Georgia. Stay cool and stay hydrated, my friends!

Leaving On A Jet Plane


Some thoughts about my July 4 flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles.

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Faces Lounge: “It’s All About The Love”


Aren’t videos fun?  I’ve been wanting to do a new video production for a while now, and while filming some colourful characters at a little bar my friends and I frequent in Marietta, I decided that this could make a fun subject for a video.  Thanks to Jon and Mary–who lent me the use of their phones after my battery died–I was able to capture not only some good B-roll, but some interviews with a few of the more colourful patrons as well.  Enjoy!

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