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Gary LUVs McCombs

UT McCombs School of Business alumnus Gary KellyWith renovations under way at its home base of Dallas Love Field and service beginning to San Juan, Puerto Rico, it’s a busy spring for Southwest Airlines and its CEO, Gary Kelly. But even with a packed schedule, Kelly, BBA ’77, makes it a point to give time to McCombs. Kelly is a member and past chair of the Advisory Council Executive Committee, and says he relishes his continued involvement with campus life. He talked with us about his UT ties. 

You are very busy. How do you make time to give back to McCombs?

I think people tend to put on their calendar what they’re passionate about. I love The University of Texas and am very honored that I can stay connected. I think the university makes it really easy for us to schedule the time to be on the advisory council. And it’s just fun. It’s a real treat to be able to come back to the university two times a year, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Why do you have that passion for your alma mater?

I feel like we’re all very lucky to have The University of Texas in our state. I think Texas is a great state. I think the state has a number of opportunities for growth in the future. It’s a fantastic place to live. I don’t think you would find the opportunities in our state unless you did have that kind of higher-learning institution. From a business person’s perspective and in terms of the need to attract talent to our state, you really need a top-notch university like The University of Texas. 

As you give back to the school, what benefits do you get in return?

Broadening relationships and broadening one’s network. Because it’s such a great institution, it attracts really talented people in the faculty, in the administration, in the student body. I’ve enjoyed the friendships with the faculty and the administration. It’s always fascinating to see the students. I continue to be so impressed with our young people. 

What have been some of your favorite or most meaningful experiences in your trips back to McCombs?

First of all, it’s just an opportunity to get on the calendar to come back to the university and soak in all that it has to offer—football games and other activities. The primary benefit that I’ve gotten is meeting the students, hearing the kinds of things that they’re working on, listening to them about where we’re fulfilling their needs and perhaps where we might be able to do better. 

I’ve got my University of Texas hat on, of course, but I also have my Southwest Airlines hat on. Staying in touch with the academic side of the world is very helpful. I’ve enjoyed that the most. I have a lot of friends that I’ve made on the Advisory Council. It’s like a fraternity or sorority or any other group of people. If you’re fond of them and have a lot of things in common, a lot of great relationships are established. 

We have the opportunity, too, to work with the dean on a vision for the campus. And I found that very interesting. Any time you have a change in the administration of a school, or you’re contemplating any kind of a change in the facilities or the campus, there’s a little bit more work for the advisory council to do. But for the most part, it’s just been trying to be supportive of the faculty and providing input on the curriculum and getting to the students and listening to their needs. 

For a McCombs alumnus who’s not involved with the school, what’s a good way to get started?

I would certainly recommend that they join the Texas Exes. And then just look for opportunities where you might be able to plug in and provide support as an alumnus. Certainly alumni can always provide their financial support. But you just never know when you’re going to get an opportunity like I’ve had to serve on an advisory council. For me, I’ve got two daughters and now two sons-in-law; three of those four are actually UT alums as well. That is icing on the cake! You actually can continue your alumni participation, if you will, by having children attend the university. That’s just too sweet.

Image credit: Dan Sellers


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