Gary Clayton Kelly is an American business executive. He is the chief executive officer and chairman at Southwest Airlines.
Kelly was born in San Antonio on March 12, 1955. Kelly received a Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a Certified Public Accountant.
Kelly first met his wife Carol in eighth grade. They married in 1976. Together, they have two daughters.
Prior to his work at Southwest, Kelly worked as an Audit Manager for Arthur Young & Co. and a controller for Sterling Software.
Kelly first joined Southwest Airlines in 1986 as a controller. In 1989, Kelly was promoted to Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Finance. In 2001, he was promoted to Executive Vice President. Kelly spent 3 years in this role until he was promoted to his current position as CEO and vice chairman in 2004 replacing James Parker who succeeded Herb Kelleher in 2001.
Kelly was named Chairman of the Board of Directors of Southwest Airlines on May 21, 2008, replacing co-founder Herb Kelleher. Gary Kelly also became president of Southwest Airlines the same year, replacing Colleen Barrett when her contract expired on July 15, 2008.
As CEO, Kelly has guided the airline to become the largest carrier of domestic passengers in the United States. He has led the company through a number of transformative, large-scale initiatives including the revamp of the airline’s Rapid Rewards program, the introduction of the Boeing 737–800 and 737 MAX aircraft to Southwest’s fleet, the acquisition of AirTran Airways, the launching of Southwest's first international service, an update to the airline’s branding, the adoption of the Amadeus reservation system, and large expansion projects at the company’s corporate headquarters in Dallas.
On January 10, 2017, Kelly announced changes to the Company's executive Leadership ranks with Thomas M. Nealon named as President and Michael G. Van de Ven named as the airline's Chief Operating Officer. These changes were effective immediately. Kelly retained the title of Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.
After agreeing to take a salary cut to prevent employee furloughs, his base salary reduced to zero until the end of 2021.
On 23 June 2021, Kelly announced he would relinquish his role as CEO in February 2022, with Bob Jordan announced to take his place at that time. He will remain as Executive Chairman of the board until at least 2026.
Kelly testified against mask mandates on airplanes at a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing while unmasked with other senior airline executives; two days later he tested positive for COVID-19.