[article] Faced with an array of inertial forces, great leaders in the airline business have been conspicuous by their absence. There are few standouts, but can their skills be replicated? Or, worryingly, do today’s CEOs even want to change? Benchmarking airline companies against each other and often employed on short-term contracts, there are forceful and counter-productive incentives to continue doing things pretty much the same way, but faster. And can they really make a lasting difference in this heavily regulated business anyway? One current leader who has undoubtedly been successful in generating profitability is Michael O’Leary, CEO of the European LCC, Ryanair. In many ways he shares some of Steve Jobs’ innovative creativity, albeit within the shackles of often-ludicrous regulatory constraints. Yet he is abrasive publicly, has had a relatively high turnover of management (although junior staff tend to have greater longevity) and can hardly be said to have sympathetic people skills. Even though he is recently suggesting he may have a fuzzy side to him, Mr O’Leary could not be further removed from the progenitors of the low-cost model his airline emulates – Southwest Airlines. Southwest founder Herb Kelleher would be most people’s pick as the best airline CEO of all time (at first with Lamar Muse and later supported by Colleen Barrett). A tough lawyer and businessman, he was inspirational, innovative, constantly generated profits and, above all, established a remarkable culture in what became the granddaddy of all LCCs. Like Mr Jobs, he changed an industry. Moreover, the Southwest culture was institutionalised, so that it has survived into the next generation of leadership.