Peter Ramjug pivoted from a wire service journalism career to writing and strategizing executive communications. He helps thought leaders gather their thoughts.
Peter RamjugMarch 21, 2024
Topics: Customer Stories

This Southwest Airlines HR Exec Knows a Thing or Two About Perseverance

Southwest Airlines has never had layoffs, furloughs, or pay cuts in its five-plus decades of existence, Greg Muccio, Managing Director of Talent Acquisition, proudly points out. That’s almost unheard of in an industry where headcount reductions have impacted nearly all of the major carriers.

Muccio has been with Southwest for 22 of its 52 years. To put that into perspective, he started as a recruiter at Southwest less than two weeks before 9/11. His take on TA over time is that it’s a craft that requires constant honing. He explains how he tries to outwork everyone else by putting in the time.

“If you're competing with me and you're doing a nine to five and I'm doing a six to six, that's four hours a day, 20 hours a week (more) than others invest in their work. “In over a year, it means I'm putting in 1,000 more hours toward my craft,” he told Phenom in an interview.

Sprint vs. marathon

Muccio’s secret to career longevity lies in how one wants to view their career.

“You can look at your career journey either as a sprint or a marathon,” he said. He took the latter route because he wanted to ascend within a company while also helping the organization grow.

“What I love about Southwest is I've always felt like I'm a part of something much bigger than myself, and that's just something that has always driven me.”

Muccio’s view on longevity may seem like an anachronism at a time when people routinely hop from one job to another. But studies show younger generations also seek careers with meaning, so aligning with a mission-first employer isn’t necessarily an “age thing.” Further research shows that when employees feel like their work has a higher purpose, they are nearly three times more likely to stay with a company.

If at first you don’t succeed…

And stay with Southwest Muccio did! Conventional wisdom holds that sticking with one employer for a long time is a good way to advance. But that’s not always the case.

“The first seven internal promotions that I applied for I didn't get,” he said. “Seven in a row.”

So why did he stay at Southwest when the odds didn’t look promising that an eighth attempt would turn out any differently? It ties back to the view of his career as a marathon.

The reward Muccio received for his diligence and perseverance: taking the helm of an HR organization that didn’t exist years ago. “We were called recruiting and I hated that name because it sounded very DMV to me,” he said of the acronym for Department of Motor Vehicles. “So I just started calling ourselves TA.”

Now overseeing a TA team that numbers nearly 300 people, Muccio can lend a sympathetic shoulder to lean on when someone doesn’t land a hoped-for promotion. “They're disappointed, yes, and I'm like when you get to eight rejections, then come talk to me and we'll compare notes,” he said.

Who among us hasn’t been there? We’re pumped up after acing an interview with the hiring manager, only to hear the disappointing news later. Yet adversity and setbacks can actually be positives, testing a leader’s character and fortitude, and that was certainly the case with Muccio.

“I'm definitely a much wiser and better leader today than when I started my journey,” he said.

The talent trifecta

Not only did Muccio change his team’s name, but also its approach to hiring. Moving to an AI-powered tech platform opened up a world of data-rich insights that led to quicker, better, and more efficient talent decisions. Adding people and process to the technology were an absolute must for a business that has to attract people all day every day. 

Related reading: How Southwest Created a Great Candidate Experience Through Phenom

“HR, and TA by default, has always been sort of poor on the data and analytics side of things,” he said. “I want to have a tech stack that is leading and not lagging.”

That’s a crucial point, because Muccio’s team isn’t just about finding new talent outside of Southwest. They’re helping internal talent find roles too, and they have special counselors to help with that. The career mobility team was stood up about three years ago because it was getting increasingly difficult to find talent as the carrier grew in size and geography.

“Think of a college career center,” is how he described the team.

“No one will care how much you know until…”

Looking back on his time at Southwest before he became a leader, Muccio remembered hearing someone say something that has stuck with him over the last two-plus decades: “No one will care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

The aphorism is widely credited to Teddy Roosevelt. For Muccio, it means letting people know he cares about them personally and professionally. He does that through relationship-building amongst his own team as well as the peer groups and departments within Southwest that TA interacts with.

“When the hiring department knows that you really care about their success and their business, getting them staffed with great people is a key to that.”

How does Roosevelt’s quote shape your view of leadership? Does your organization put as much effort into hiring from within as it does externally? Check out all you need to know about skills right here.

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