Colleen Barrett Honored with the 2016 Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy

Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus, Southwest Airlines, has been selected as the recipient of the 2016 Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy.

Established by NAA in 1948 to honor the memory of Orville and Wilbur Wright, the trophy is awarded annually to a living American for “…significant public service of enduring value to aviation in the United States.”

Jim Albaugh, Chairman of NAA and a member of the Selection Committee, praised the choice. “Colleen Barrett is an industry veteran who can be credited with so much of the success of Southwest Airlines because of the company vision, values, and ideals she helped to create,” Albaugh said. “She is truly deserving of this great honor.”

Colleen Barrett, known as the “Queen of Hearts”, has had a career in aviation that has spanned nearly 50 years. She remains the only woman to serve as President of a major U.S. airline and has dedicated her life to the conception and retention of a unique corporate culture at Southwest Airlines.

After graduating from Becker Junior College in Worchester, Massachusetts in 1964, Barrett relocated to San Antonio, Texas, where she began working as a legal secretary for Herb Kelleher, an attorney and the co-founder of Southwest Airlines. She quickly became involved in the lengthy legal proceedings that eventually allowed the airline to take the skies in 1971.

Barrett formally joined Southwest Airlines in 1978 as Corporate Secretary to the Board of Directors. From there she held many titles including: Vice President of Administration from 1986 to 1990; Executive Vice President of Customers from 1990 to 2001; President and COO from 2001 to 2004; and President from 2004 to 2008.

As President of Southwest Airlines, Barrett oversaw the management and leadership of a variety of areas including human resources, customer relations, labor relations, marketing, and public affairs – all key ingredients to Southwest’s success. Barrett’s personal credo – “Follow the Golden Rule, learn from your mistakes, take the initiative, and listen to your heart,” has secured her position as one of the highest-ranking and most successful female executives in the history of the U.S. airline industry.

Barrett stepped down as Southwest’s President in July 2008. In 2010, she co-authored a book with Ken Blanchard titled Lead with LUV: A Different Way to Create Success, which draws on her leadership philosophy and personal experiences as a pioneer in the aviation industry.

To read the official press release, please click here.

Barrett will be presented the trophy at the Aero Club of Washington’s Wright Memorial Dinner on Friday, December 16, 2016.