Written by Zoya Saxena
UT graduate and alum Mike Van de Ven returned to the classroom, this time sitting on the other side of the lecture hall. Van de Ven, Chief Operating Officer of Southwest Airlines, visited the sophomore Business Honors Lyceum to share advice with the students and talk to them about his time in college and career at Southwest.
Ever since he watched UT play A&M during the Thanksgiving football game, Van de Ven knew he wanted to come to UT. When applying to college, Van de Ven was also searching for the best school to complete his degree in Accounting.
“UT has a great return on investment. I am proud of the quality of education which you can receive here in such a cost effective manner. That’s why I love this school,” said Van de Ven.
Van de Ven said that he feels reenergized when he returns to campus and that his passion for education and development of young professionals is what keeps him coming back.
“A while ago, my wife and I sat down and asked ourselves what we truly care about. I thought I would have a long list, but we were only able to come up with a few things: young people, education, and bringing that (talent) into our company,” Van de Ven said.
Many students were curious about Van de Ven’s time at Southwest and what made him make the switch from accounting to the airline industry. Van de Ven explained that his job in accounting allowed him to identify problems or issues, but that he wanted to make a larger impact and be part of resolutions.
“It’s not about the money. It’s about the job. The best part about Southwest is that if you enjoy what you are doing, there is no limit to the work they allow you to do,” Van de Ven said.
Van de Ven also stressed the value of people, relationships, and the community. He said that anyone in the workplace needs to pass what Van de Ven has coined ‘the lunch test’. Van de Ven believes this mantra is a reason why Southwest is a successful people-focused and community-driven company.
He said, “You should be able to go to lunch every single day with the people you work with. It’s not necessarily the smartest person in the room, but it’s someone you can have a dialog with, and someone who brings an interesting perspective.”
At the end of the discussion, Van de Ven left the students with three key pieces of advice:
- “Stay connected to the people around you.”
- “Be yourself out there.”
- “If you are not having fun, don’t do it.”