Southwest Airlines President Tom Nealon joins Busch School of Business for Business Lecture

Tom Nealon posing in front of South West Airlines modals. Courtesy of

By Thomas Curry

Tom Nealon, president of Southwest Airlines, spoke about incorporating Catholic faith into business and leadership during a lecture hosted by the Busch School of Business in Heritage Hall on Wednesday afternoon.

Tom Nealon has served as President of Southwest Airlines since January 2017, after having worked as Executive Vice President of Strategy and Innovation starting in February 2016. Since working for Southwest Airlines, Nealon has been involved in long-range strategy and innovation efforts that have impacted Southwest flights, such as not having assigned seats for efficiency.

The lecture between Nealon and Michael Pakaluk, acting dean and ordinary professor of ethics and social philosophy, answered questions about proper business ethics, the importance of Catholic education in business, and technological innovation in the airline industry. Pakaluk and Nealon hosted the lecture in the style of a fireside chat, where the two sat next to each other on stage and spoke conversationally. The two started by talking about Catholicism and business, and how the students can successfully intertwine to create a successful career and workplace. Nealon brought up points about managing one’s faith life and how it not only takes precedence to one’s work life, but also how it could be paramount to overall work performance.

“Finding your work-life balance is difficult, even I still struggle with it at times,” Nealon said during the talk, “but prioritizing faith and family, especially in my hardest times, has been one of the easiest decisions I’ve had to make in my life.”

Pakaluk also mentioned the new addition of a chapel in Maloney Hall where the Busch School of Business now holds daily masses to emphasize a work-faith balance, and asked Nealon how students can utilize the chapel as Catholic businesspeople, as well as what importance there is in having a chapel in Maloney Hall.

“I’d like to think it’s simple, that [a chapel] is an important part of any business school,” said Nealon, “the business school having the new chapel is really necessary and is unique to the school.”

The lecture housed over one hundred students and faculty members, many coming from the Busch School of Business and other neighboring departments. The lecture lasted thirty-five minutes before Pakaluk and Nealon opened the microphone to students for a Q&A. Students found the lecture eye-opening and saw Nealon as an interesting perspective into the business world as a practicing Catholic.

“I thought it was interesting to get [Nealon’s] perspective on the importance of profit versus ethics,” Catholic University junior Lizzy Rich said, “You’re going to run across scenarios in the real world where you have to say no to things.”

The lecture also allowed students to foster their knowledge from their current business management courses and apply their knowledge to Nealon’s ideas. Much of Nealon’s words related to information learned in a variety of courses offered at Catholic University, such an entrepreneurship or business ethics courses.

“We learned in class that you’re going to gain more profit in the long term from making ethical business decisions, whereas making decisions for immediate profit only solves the short term problem, but not necessarily the long term problem,” Rich said, “I thought it was great to get the opportunity to hear from the perspective of [Nealon] and hear some examples where he has had to choose between one or the other.”

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