Kathleen Wayton's ('83) first job was at a Dallas design firm, and like most inaugural forays into the professional frontier, it was no better or worse than fine. The position certainly had some bright spots, particularly in the way it allowed the marketing grad to tap into her innate creativity and knack for problem solving -- skills that served her well then, and even better now.
It was at home, though, that her imagination really soared, ascending as high as the airplanes that glided above her apartment as they made their way to DFW Airport. The Odessa native had rarely traveled, but as she gazed up at the passenger jets, she could picture herself relaxing on international beaches and strolling through European museums, soaking in the masterpieces that had so captivated her attention during an art history class at North Texas.
So one day, Wayton decided to strike a deal with her boss. "I'll work as a reservation agent for American Airlines for a year and travel," she promised, "and then I'll come back."
She never did. Instead, she segued into technology at American, eventually transitioning into a role as an assembler developer. After nearly two decades as a technology leader at American and Sabre, she joined Southwest Airlines in 2004 as senior director of technology.
And while it seems cliché to say the sky was the limit, that was the absolute truth: In a company whose top priority is employee satisfaction, Wayton was presented with endless ways to explore her talents and, in turn, bolster Southwest's reputation with customers.
"Herb Kelleher always said, 'Take care of your employees, and they'll take care of their customers,'" says Wayton, who for the past two years has served as Southwest's senior vice president and chief information officer. "We're all working toward the same goal -- trying to make sure everybody enjoys what they're doing as they're making the customer experience better."
A significant piece of that goal for Wayton and her team was the completion of OneRes, which replaced the airline's 30-year-old reservation system in 2017 with Amadeus' Altéa platform. The migration to Altéa, spearheaded by Wayton, allows Southwest to optimize their schedule, enhance revenue through improved fare flexibility, automate re-accommodations during irregular operations and support international growth through new distribution capabilities.
"OneRes implemented very successfully," says Wayton, who noted that the system is on track to exceed the $500 million in additional annual profit it was projected to generate for Southwest by 2020. "Having a modern, flexible reservation system gives you so much opportunity."
Currently, Wayton is focused on building increased data integration across the end-to-end customer experience. Once those foundational aspects are set, she says, the company will be able to deliver travel experiences much quicker.
And speaking of travel -- since she left that design firm in 1984, Wayton has done plenty of it. But the journey that's taught her the most is her professional one.
"Never say no -- just take the opportunity," Wayton says. "When American said I should be an assembler developer, I did it. When Southwest asked me to work in strategic planning, I did it. Having an open mindset led me to where I am today."
How UNT shaped her:
Coming from Odessa, it was a smaller town -- so just meeting everybody, the students and the teachers, opened me up to new experiences. I took a lot of different classes, which helped me understand the world better. I think learning about all the different artists and their backgrounds was what really made me want to travel.
Favorite travel destinations:
The beach is my favorite -- in fact, I just got back from Punta Cana. Everyone was surprised when they heard my next trip wasn't a beach trip. My son, Korbin, graduated from Norwich University in May, and we're going to climb Machu Picchu and also volunteer at a hospital that treats tropical diseases.
The Southwest culture:
The culture fit is a very important part of working here. You have to build relationships -- you don't just sit in your office and not go see people. I'm an introvert, but this is an extrovert company, so it's hard. But you just have to embrace talking to people. Just walk around the halls and get to know the people you work with. It makes for a great working environment.