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Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher donates $4 million to The University of Texas at Austin

The University of Texas at Austin today announced a gift of $4 million from Herb Kelleher, founder and chairman of the board of Southwest Airlines.

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AUSTIN, Texas—The University of Texas at Austin today announced a gift of $4 million from Herb Kelleher, founder and chairman of the board of Southwest Airlines.

The donation to the university’s McCombs School of Business will fund the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship, charged with creating the country’s leading academic center focused on entrepreneurship. The Herb Kelleher Chair in Entrepreneurship, endowed with a portion of the gift, will support the director of the center.

"Herb Kelleher is an innovator, whose vision and enterprise created a remarkably successful company that delivers value and convenience to consumers," said Dr. Larry R. Faulkner, president of the university. "We are proud of his association with The University of Texas at Austin and grateful for this insightful gift, which will strengthen our entrepreneurial programs and the Texas economy for years to come."

Kelleher’s gift leverages matching grants of $1 million from the Cullen Trust and $3 million from the Red McCombs gift (from a $50 million pledge he made to the school last year), creating an overall investment of $8 million in the Kelleher center and endowed chair.

"Herb’s gift is the rocket shot we need to shoot our entrepreneur center to the top because we get Herb and the gift," said Red McCombs. "Herb will be a greater resource than the money. We are blessed to have both."

"We could not have a more appropriate name associated with our entrepreneurship programs," said Robert G. May, dean of the McCombs School. "There is no one I can think of in Texas, the country or the world who better embodies the entrepreneurial spirit and who is more capable of applying it to business than Herb Kelleher."

Kelleher, a former chairman of the school’s advisory committee, was excited to support a pursuit that has been central to his world-renowned success.

"I have had the great fortune of earning a living doing something I love," said Kelleher. "I welcome the chance to give something back, especially to future entrepreneurs.

"The entrepreneurial spirit fuels our economy by improving the performance of businesses, whether they are start-ups or large companies," Kelleher said. "It’s especially exciting to fund this center at Texas and the Red McCombs School of Business. These are institutions that have a powerful and positive impact on the lives of thousands of people every year."

Kelleher’s founding and development of Dallas-based Southwest Airlines in 1966 changed an industry. The original business plan, created while Kelleher was working as outside counsel for a start-up airline envisioned by Texas businessman Rollin King, was sketched on a cocktail napkin.

Challenged by the major airlines, tiny Southwest had to battle in court for the right to fly in Texas. Kelleher, a graduate of New York University Law School, took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court and won. By 1973, Southwest’s business model of short-haul, no-frills flights was a success. The company entered an unbroken run of 28 consecutive years of profitability.

Under Kelleher’s leadership, Southwest became the fourth-largest U.S. carrier. Its business model inspired wide-ranging changes in the airline industry. Among many distinctions, the company is famous for an employee-centered corporate culture that fosters the entrepreneurial spirit of its founder. Fittingly, entrepreneurship also is one of the McCombs School’s core strengths.

The Kelleher center and chair will add to existing programs at the Red McCombs School of Business, while creating a forum for successful entrepreneurs, students and faculty. Start-ups will not be the only area of focus. In the spirit of Southwest Airlines, the center will foster the application of entrepreneurship principles to companies of all sizes, spurring corporate growth and renewal.

Programs and activities will include an entrepreneurs council open to the start-up community, special courses and seminars for entrepreneurs, an entrepreneurs-in-residence program, courses for students at all levels, research projects where students and faculty solve problems for (and with) entrepreneurs and a series of publications in entrepreneurship

The center will maintain strong ties with the IC2 Institute, the Austin Technology Incubator and other colleges and schools at The University of Texas at Austin. It also will facilitate commercialization of discoveries at the university through business plans and new ventures.

For more information, contact Jim Kunetka, Office of Resource Development, (512) 475-9641, <jkunetka@mail.utexas.edu> or J.B. Bird, McCombs School of Business, (512) 471-3314, <jb.bird@mail.utexas.edu>. Also visit the Red McCombs School of Business Web site at: <www.mccombs.utexas.edu>