Heart, Purpose and People
Southwest Airlines Chief Commercial Officer Ryan Green ’99 reflects on his 20-year journey from entry-level to executive.
- By Mamie Hertel ’24
- Photography by Jonathan Zizzo
- Oct. 11, 20233 min read
While many universities have values and purpose statements, few student bodies embody theirs as wholeheartedly as Aggies. For countless current and former students, Texas A&M University’s core values and honor code transcend mere recitation; they serve as guiding principles for life.
“Aggieland is where I learned how to be passionate about purpose,” attests Ryan Green ’99. After graduating with a marketing degree, Green went from one mission-focused environment to another by starting his career at Southwest Airlines. Two decades later, that career has taken flight from entry-level to executive in an airline whose customers are almost as loyal as Aggie sports fans.
Tell me about your transition from Aggieland to Southwest.
As a first-generation college student, I was attracted to Texas A&M’s values, traditions and down-to-earth student body. I studied political science intending to go to law school, but I realized I loved uncovering consumer needs and exploring how companies can uniquely meet those needs. I found a home in marketing, so it made sense that one of my first jobs after graduation was as a marketing specialist at Southwest.
I chose Southwest because I aligned with the values, which are similar to Texas A&M’s values. I spent a lot of time working on our loyalty and rewards programs as well as our marketing campaigns. Eventually, I became the chief marketing officer in 2016 and am now the chief commercial officer. I didn’t set out to lead marketing at Southwest, but it’s been the thrill of a lifetime to help drive this iconic brand that people are passionate about. I’m thankful my Aggie experience taught me the importance of remaining loyal to a purpose.
What have you learned from being a leader during hard times?
Challenges reveal your true colors. At Southwest, honesty, transparency and empathy are non-negotiable. During the pandemic, when people were hesitant to fly, we leaned on our values to be sincere and understanding of customer concerns. We did the same during our operational disruption last December by taking ownership of our mistakes and aiming to do right by our customers. We invested hundreds of millions of dollars in refunds, hotels, rental cars, tickets on other airlines and, in some cases, we even bought cars on Craigslist to ensure people could get home when rental cars were unavailable.
We didn’t waste time debating whether to spend this money. We consider ourselves fortunate to have loyal customers, and we’re committed to reciprocating that loyalty. By consistently relying on our values and treating our people well, we found that problems can be resolved faster than imagined.
What motivates you?
Seeing others succeed inspires me every day. While I love helping remove roadblocks and providing advice, there’s nothing more heartening than stepping aside and watching someone thrive. Whether it’s assisting incoming freshmen in finding their way as Aggies during my days as a Fish Camp counselor and chair, leading passionate people through my career at Southwest or supporting first-generation college students by creating a scholarship endowment with my wife, Mary ’98, I’m grateful to have had so many opportunities to witness others shine.
Make an Impact: Interested in supporting passionate, purposeful Aggie marketing students? Start your giving journey today by contacting True Brown '04.
About Ryan Green ’99
Ryan Green ’99 was involved with Fish Camp, MSC Hospitality, Ol’ Ags and Traditions Council as a student. With a strong background in marketing and a deep commitment to values, Green has played a pivotal role in shaping Southwest Airlines’ brand and fostering customer loyalty during his 20-plus years at the company. He has led several key marketing campaigns at Southwest, including the “Give the World Heart” brand platform.