Southwest Airlines once settled a legal dispute with ‘Arm Wrestling’

Southwest Airlines is one of the largest & profitable airlines today, the airline was started in 1967 by Rollin King, an investment consultant, and Herb Kelleher, an attorney. Kelleher, a charismatic businessman was it’s CEO from 1981 to 2001. In his tenure he oversaw many campaigns, one of those campaigns was “Just Plane Smart”.

Everything was going fine, until Kurt Herwald, another CEO of a much smaller company found out about the campaign. Kurt Herwald was CEO of Stevens Aviation, a company involved in selling and servicing small aircrafts. The issue was Stevens Aviation had similar slogan, “Plane Smart” and they had been using it for years.

When Kurt discovered the campaign, he sent a very very unique email to Southwest’s Kelleher:

Kurt’s email to Kelleher, Credits: Inc.

The email was seen by Kelleher and he also replied in style:

Kelleher email to Herwald, Courtesy: Inc.

Shortly after this exchange, the duo scheduled an arm wrestling match, famously called Malice in Dallas. Best two out of three will win the match and the loser will make a charitable donation. They rented out the Dallas arm wrestling facility and properly filmed that moment too. Here is the fourth part of six part series, you can find here.

Credits: South West Archive

Kurt won the match and got the exclusive rights for the slogan. But, immediately after the match he announced that they will allow Southwest to use the slogan in return for $5,000 charitable donation to Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland.

Both of the companies benefitted from the event, no lawyer cost & free PR. Stevens particularly benefited a lot from the event, the sales of the company grew 25% over next four years to reach $100 million from $28 million, according to Priceonomics.

Leave a Comment