greg Muccio

Southwest Airlines Managing Director of TA Greg Muccio

Greg MuccioSouthwest Airlines Managing Director of TA Greg Muccio

When you go to bed on a Sunday night, not bummed that there is work tomorrow, you know you’ve got a job you love! My guest today is the Managing Director of Talent Acquisition at Southwest Airlines, Greg Muccio. He’s been there for over 22 years and is passionate about his job, his team, and the programs and people involved. In our conversation today, Greg talks about his experience as a long-time Southwest Airlines employee, what motivated him over the years to stay, and the aspects of the job he loves even today. He shares an overview of the distinctive talent acquisition challenges faced by Southwest and talks about current hiring trends and the appetite for open roles. He elaborates on their Destination 225° (D-225) program before expressing the significance of uncovering new talent that Southwest does not currently possess. Make sure to tune into this episode to hear more about how Greg conceptualizes the talent department within Southwest and how he implements long-term tactical approaches to talent acquisition.

Episode Transcript

[Podcast intro plays]

Rob Stevenson 0:52
I’m your host, Rob Stevenson, and you’re about to hear the best in the biz. talk down to me. Here with me today on top talent, to me is a man who represents a brand you all know, well, it’s my preferred brand. When I take to the airways. He is the Managing Director of Talent Acquisition over at Southwest Airlines. Greg Muccio. Welcome to the podcast. How the heck are you today?

Greg Muccio 1:15
I’m doing great. Thanks for having me.

Rob Stevenson 1:17
You are a unique case, Greg, because you’ve been at Southwest quite a while. And now I feel like the average tenure at a job is like no more than four years. So Something must be going good over there. If you’ve stuck around so long.

Greg Muccio 1:30
Yeah, it’s a really great place. I do pinch myself, I just kind of pass my 22nd year mark. So yeah, it can be hard to believe I’m with you just being in a space, you see the other folks tenure, some shorter not of their choice. And so to be at a place like Southwest that says a great history of taking care of their people. It’s a fun job.

Rob Stevenson 1:53
And you’ve been regularly rewarded there, you have moved your way on up the old talent acquisition ladder. And so I’m sure you had the opportunity to leave over the years, I’m sure your head was turned at certain points. What made you in those moments decide that Southwest was the place to stay.

Greg Muccio 2:11
It was mostly around the people and the team that I lead. I always knew it’s like, I could probably go someplace and you know, maybe make more money, do you know all the things, all those different boxes that you would check. But when you go to bed on Sunday night, you’re not bummed out the psychos end of the weekend, I got to work go to work on Monday. I mean, I’m genuinely excited. I’m excited when I get up in the morning. And a lot of it has to do with just the people that I get to work with and see the creative and great things are doing. And so that’s really what I would always put as that’s the biggest risk is I know that I love that now and what I take a risk of not feeling that way.

Rob Stevenson 2:54
So when it’s Sunday evening, and you’re not having the Sunday scary as as those of us who have anxiety about our jobs like to call him, what is it about your team that makes you think, okay, I don’t mind going into work with these people, like they’re worth sticking around for?

Greg Muccio 3:07
Well, genuinely, they’re really good people. So you just kind of want to be around them. And it is more than work. It’s like, Hey, would I go have a meal with this person or go hang out with this person outside of work? Absolutely. But when it gets to the inside of the walls here for us, it’s and they’re just smart, they’re brilliant, they’re creative, they’re talented, they care, they try to help each other out. And so that’s just, it’s just really fun. It’s just really fun when you get to be, you know, a part of something like that. It’s not perfect, but it’s fun to watch. Folks roll up their sleeves. And we’ve been through a lot the last couple of years from everything that the pandemic and then coming out of it and the hiring spree that we’ve been on. We’ve been in a lot together. And so just to watch, through that adversity to see all the great things come out. It’s been really neat.

Rob Stevenson 3:57
It strikes me as a somewhat unique hiring challenge you are tasked with because you have to bring people on and roles everywhere from luggage cart operators, pilots, but then sure, there are software engineers, I’m sure their data science roles, I’m sure their CFO roles, all the normal trappings of a business. So I would love it before we jump in here because you kind of paint a broad stroke of what is the talent challenge over there at Southwest and how you’re kind of meeting the moment.

Greg Muccio 4:26
Yeah, I mean, you did say it. I mean, it’s across the board. Everything you look at when you fly when you go to the airport, you know, just all of those individuals and the ones that you mostly interact with, you know, at an airport. Those are we call above the wing roles and there’s below ring roles, which is people that are making sure your bags get on the plane and the plane gets fueled and all the things that go with that. And obviously when you’re up in the air, the crew piece, but like you said just here at our headquarters, it’s a 10,000 plus person company on its own, with everything FROM ALL OF finance, marketing, HR, sales, communications, all the things that are there. And then what’s also really unique in the aviation industry is just there’s so much legal and government and environmental and just all the things that have to work with. They’re one of the things that still kind of makes me giggle a little bit. But when I first started, we have meteorologists on staff here. And I mean, it makes sense when you think about like, oh, yeah, weather does all this and it probably really smart and have people that can help guide us, but it’s like, yeah, I just posted for meteorologists, and my team’s hiring for one. So it’s just all that stuff makes it for a very, very unique ta organization.

Rob Stevenson 5:42
That’s so cool. Yeah, like, I would never have thought about it. But of course, there are meteorologists working for major airlines. And what a funny thing to source for. I wouldn’t even really know where to start, I guess go to local colleges and universities and like, alright, let’s, let’s talk to some scientists. Here’s what we got.

Greg Muccio 5:55
Yeah, it’s fun. I mean, back in the day, I mean, and we still do, we’ll get interns from there. And it’s just like, okay, they had to come from someplace you just never thought of, and it’s like, oh, well, that makes sense. And to realize some of these really great schools that are out there that have really great meteorology program. So it’s just it’s, like I said, that one always just makes me smile, because it’s obvious now. But it just is still kind of fun.

Rob Stevenson 6:17
Yeah, of course. And being where you are hiring, like I said, the luggage cart operators, the pilots, the crew, then normal sorts of hires normal and air quotes, you know, if at least for the things we talked about on this podcast, in terms of regular business dealings, but then yeah, meteorologist all these awesome roles. So add to that the scale of Southwest as an organization, you are maybe seated somewhere, where you see hiring, taking place across like all swaths of the economy in terms of skill sets. So what are you noticing just in terms of hiring overall? And just what are open roles? Were the the appetite for open roles on like a, a Labor Workforce point of view? What kind of things are you noticing out there?

Greg Muccio 6:58
Yeah, we really kind of saw it, post the pandemic. And I think we were heading to some of this. But I think the pandemic like a situation like that would really just kind of tip it over and just made it really extreme when the pandemic happened. And you know, we really want to kind of pay the reset, heavy, heavy, 10 to 12 months of it, workforce loss 4.5 million people out of the United States, and it hasn’t gotten them all back until now. But when I say gotten back the numbers, not those four and a half million, those folks kind of left and most of them didn’t come back, and you still have an extreme number of boomers leaving. And so what that leaves us Rob as an overall labor market, if you will, where there’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.7 to 1.8 job openings per candidate on the market. And that becomes really, really huge. And the last stat we were looking at, but if basically, you took everybody that was in that unemployment bucket, or that could work and you made them go to work and fill one of the open jobs, he’s still had somewhere in the neighborhood of four and a half to 5 million open unfilled jobs. So that just puts a lot of pressure across the board, what we’re seeing more than anything now, and probably you and everybody that’s listening to my voice right now knows of help wanted signs, or their local restaurants or retail, or anything of that, that have modified their hours, because they just can’t cover that or might limit how many people they serve at a time. It’s just it’s really put a really big pressure on that part of the labor market more than anything else.

Rob Stevenson 8:46
So this is kind of the first time hearing that there are more jobs than people is this, that there’s like a lack of talent, or is there some kind of shift in the the attitudes toward work?

Greg Muccio 8:57
I think there’s a little bit of both. I mean, there’s some stats that show, I think I want to say this from 1970 1971. Until last year, that the US population, the birth rate declined each and every year. Right. So just producing more bodies to do the work. So you’ve got that as one element of it. But I do think there’s been a drastic shift to work, I think you see a really heavy shift to like gig work, right? You know, whether it’s Uber or Lyft, or you think of just people doing their own things, or certainly maybe individuals not wanting, you know, a traditional 40 hour week type of job. So I think you’ve got that whole mix that’s happening.

Rob Stevenson 9:45
What do you do at Southwest? Like what is your team doing when you meet that kind of individual, someone who is perhaps very well suited for a role, but like, I think I’d rather you know, work for myself or at least make my own hours or participate in the gig economy. If someone’s attitude is not, you know, necessarily one to one with the open role. How are you trying to fill those roles?

Greg Muccio 10:08
Yeah, I mean, you got to do a lot of things. And I think that’s probably a consensus among my peers that I talked to at other organizations, right? That there’s not answer. It’s like, whatever you think of you should go try. And you’re going to have to do a lot of things. But we talked about this earlier, as well as being in ta right now. It’s hard work. I mean, and so you got to show up, and you gotta be ready to work hard. And what that might mean is, okay, I got to make one more phone call to a potential candidate, I’m going to do one more interview, to be able to do that and keep doing it. But it takes a lot of things. I’ve got a recruitment marketing team, that their whole thing is on recruitment, marketing and candidate experience. So it’s really about helping us evangelize what Southwest is a place to work in getting that message into the right places for people and being able to sell our brand. And we do have a great brand, but trying to explain in some instances, maybe to that individual like, Oh, why this might be worth doing that. I think one of the things that all of us in this space have to overcome is candidates, their paths. And what I mean by that is, it’s hard to talk to somebody these days that hasn’t been laid off or furloughed, or something along those lines or thought they were gonna get 40 hours and had it cut in half, or was asked for a cut and pay. And so that’s baggage, if you will, that they are bringing into a job search. Now we are blessed. Southwest is 52 years old, I’ve been here for 22 of them, I started about 10 days before 911. And just in my 22 years, I’ve seen 911, I don’t know, seven or eight recessions. Obviously this pandemic and at no point in time, was I ever feared question or thought of being furloughed or laid off and they’ve never missed a paycheck. We’ve never talked about pay cuts. And that’s really in our history. So that’s a really big thing that we do try to anchor on a lot is just that stability piece. Because I do think that that’s important for individuals, I think if they’re looking at that I do think that pandemic, what it did to so many of us was that the loss that happened was completely out of everyone’s control, right? It wasn’t like, oh, we made a bad investment or movie made a mistake, or we were doing something, something happened to all of us. And a lot of people lost their jobs or whatever it may be. And so there’s some of it. It’s just trying to recover from that.

Rob Stevenson 12:51
Yeah, of course. And this idea that a lot of or a certain amount of work trauma, let’s call it is through no fault of your own. Right, right. Yeah. But I can see why that would lead people to be like, I’m not gonna bother with a full time job. It’s like you can follow all the rules and do good work and do exactly as you’re told and still wind up on the wrong side of the layoff table.

Greg Muccio 13:14
Yeah, no, absolutely. And I think why I’m super proud of our team. And what we’ve done over the past couple of years, is I think the hospitality industry probably got hit the hardest, right? Because obviously, during the pandemic, people were not traveling, people were not going out. And you’re finally seeing, you know, some of that stuff come. But once again, that’s a group that was just really hit hard. And so yeah, there’s a pause there with that. So just really proud of my team and them getting out there and doing what we’ve done getting ourselves into a position where we are now where we are staffed as we go into our winter operations, which is really huge. And we’ve got all the pieces of the business where they need to be at this point in time. And and so that’s just that’s really exciting. Yeah, of

Rob Stevenson 14:08
course. So what is the scope of the town operation? I would just love to know the more about your team.

Greg Muccio 14:13
Yeah, so we’re in the 275 ish range, if you will, and about maybe 13 14 teams. So as we talked about, it’s literally everything so from what we call a ramp agent, which is below the wings, so everything he would see at the airport, everything he would see in a crew at the sky, and then everything all the way to C suite VP level, my team would be hiring, but that’s the full time roles. We also as I mentioned, I have a team that focuses on candidate experience and recruitment marketing. I have a team that focuses on career mobility because it helps our internal employees get ready and help them with some career pathing I have a team that does what I call K through college. We are literally in elementary schools and junior High’s and high schools, we have high school internships, college internships, we do a summer camp for employees kids, to introduce them to the world of work, we do aviation days across the country to introduce third through seventh graders to the world of aviation. And then I also have a sourcing team, I call them they’re my TMZ of TA where it’s like, I know a person that does this, I don’t know their name or anything, or I’ve sent people, you know, they’re like, we’ll find them. And you know, they kind of come back with that. And then we manage also in our world to our contingent workforce. So temporary staff OG, and then we partner with supply chain on professional services, but my team manages that work group. And then lastly, I have a team that also we have a couple of programs, the programs called D 225. And just so you know, that’s 225 on a compass points, Southwest. So that’s where that name came from. But we have a program as we speak right now, where we can take folks interested in becoming a first officer and put them in that program and to create a direct path and at a cheaper cost can get them there. And then we’re about to roll one out for mechanics as well. But it’s, you know, it’s an early career Ab initio type of program. But that’s the gamut of everything that we’re doing.

Rob Stevenson 16:26
Can you speak a little more about D? 225? That sounds awesome.

Greg Muccio 16:30
Yeah, it’s great. As we began to look at about five years ago, hey, we think that there very well could be a pilot shortage coming and how can we solve for that, and one of the things we wanted to be able to do is we looked at it, there’s just, there’s some barriers, for example, that becoming a pilot. And at that point in time, it was costly. There was some uncertainty, you know, just a very different time than what it was how it looks today, but just a lot of uncertainty, and then just start a direct path, you would talk to most of the folks and they’re bouncing around from regionals trying to build their hours, hoping to get to one of the majors, and it’s just a lot that was out of their control. And so part of it was like, Well, hey, if we can create a more direct path, help them build their hours, maybe do it at a more economical price point for them and give them some certainty, we could do that. So that’s really great. We are now up to that piece of the program, we look to hire around 600 candidates a year, and an approximately anywhere from three and a half to five years, depending on how fast they can build their hours, they will come over and be a first officer for us this past spring, we had the very first ones come across. And it’s really exciting. But we’re also now building in other pathways so that we can get folks that are in college programs, their military, where we can help transition and bridge them over versus just them having to go and try and build that separately. So it’s just really exciting. We’ve had employees get into the program as well, which is really, really exciting. So we’re really proud of it. And like I said, we’re expanding mechanics, and we have three or four other departments roles where we feel like we can do this, whether it’s just very much of hey, do we want to depend completely on the open market to fill these types of roles? Or do we want to go build it ourselves?

Rob Stevenson 18:31
That is the next level approach that I’m excited to hear about. Because the alternative to developing talent is just fishing in the same pond as everyone else and hoping that you are competitive enough and hoping that you are going to be able to have the most compelling offer. And as good as your team is, the reality is you won’t, right, you won’t always have it. And so you can either just like cross your fingers and like as you say hope that the market is going to deliver you enough talent so that you and all your competitors can make these hires, or you do what you can to make sure these people are coming to the talent market. And because you help them get there, they have an affinity for you. They’re more likely to want to work for you shortly.

Greg Muccio 19:08
Yeah, and what’s that old saying? Right hopes not a strategy or something like that. Right? So yeah, and then ta you don’t want to do that. But as we were talking to about the labor market, I mean, everything that I’ve read, there is no relief for five years, at least, possibly longer. And so I’m just a very big believer, if we’re going to make it if we’re going to have the right kind of talent, we will have to uncover new pools of talent that don’t exist to southwest today. And that can be both internal and external. And so that’s a piece of it and it certainly works well for roles that you know, you’re going to need because you’re going to you know, I gotta hire him anyway. So let me invest let me grow let me develop them and so far it’s been really successful. We’ve got a sort of a pilot one going on the technology side because As technology is probably our largest corporate piece, what we sometimes like to say we’re a technology company that just happens to fly planes, because it’s obviously really, really important to us. But we’ve got kind of a junior technology role where we can do that. And it just for us, it’s just constantly we’ve got to look at some of those pockets to go, where can I take somebody that has the right attitude, the aptitude to get there? And what are we willing to invest in them to help them be able to serve in that role?

Rob Stevenson 20:29
Yeah, when you say uncovering new pools of talent, you have this approach to help develop folks, but also with the amount of like the breadth of roles you have, do you play like mix and match with like, Oh, someone applied for this role, but they’re actually a better fit for this one over here? Surely, there’s so many people just in your own existing talent pool, that there is an angle there?

Greg Muccio 20:49
Ya know, for sure, a couple of years ago, we started going down a path which I called Total talent approach, right? And what the whole purpose of that was exactly what you said is, we’ve invested a lot, we’ve spent a lot of money to be hiring people and to talk to them about specific roles. But oftentimes, there’s only one seat to fill or two seats to fill. We’ve got some really great people. And instead of just saying, Hey, thanks, but no, Thanks, Rob. Or, you know, we appreciated all that are like, Oh, wow, Rob’s really a really great Southwest fit, he’s got skills in some other areas, let me share him with some of our peers and IV, we’ve even now upped the ante a little bit where we’ve got some technology, that helps it because as my team’s grown, I think the visual where you would think of this, right as the old days of two recruiters sitting across from each other and handing each other resumes of somebody that they sourced or found, but we’re gonna fit for their role, but might be a fit for theirs, that certainly any of my friends, anybody listening here that came from the agency background like myself, that’s what that was, right? As a few got anybody, I’ll give you a cut on your people you give me you give me on somebody that’s there? Well, it’s the same kind of concept, right to be able to do that, and to have that kind of approach. So we do that. So it’s really great. And what we found is, it can be really helpful, it can get us some really quick wins. And quick Phil’s candidates, obviously, certainly like it, because they know, okay, wow, that’s a special feeling to say, Hey, I’d love to see it here someday. And let’s figure out where those rights spots are. So I think that parts of it is really huge. But what it also does for us is just for our internal customer, our hiring leaders, what we’ve been able to do is, instead of, you could be a hiring leader that needs a full time role, and intern and staff on contractor. Well, instead of having three different teams that you have to deal with, we’ve consolidated that so that you kind of really have one main point of contact, those are all still centers of excellence that do all the majority of the work. But instead of you having to like Explain yourself three different times to three groups, you’re really kind of only doing it once to this main recruiter, and then they kind of help guide through that. It’s really helped us over the last couple years a lot with our internship program, actually, just because that one recruiter had a better idea of what a department might be looking at, or where they might have opened spots for entry level roles. And so even though they might be looking at an intern for another group, they would have that group in mind to go okay, well, I’ve hired Rob, he may not get hired into this department, because they may not have the headcount. But if they’ve got one and another group, we don’t want that to have been a wasted internship. When we all walk away and go, Man, Rob’s really great, but we didn’t think through, could he be a fit for that other role? So it’s really helped us out. I think we still have a lot that we can do in the space. But I’m really excited about how far we’ve come.

Rob Stevenson 23:59
Yeah, it’s interesting. You harken back to your agency days there when it’s like, you know, beg, borrow and steal talent or like, Hey, do you have any people that were your second place finishers, right, that you wish you could hire but so to someone was slightly better? Was there just hand washes that one, two, etc. And it’s interesting, because when you’re spending all the different teams, you have different programs, it sounded almost like you were running this business within a business at Southwest. Right. And I guess that would translate one to one to an agency approach. Is that how you conceptualize things when you think about the talent departments role within the greater organization?

Greg Muccio 24:32
Yeah, that was certainly part of the vision as we began to do this was let me create a staffing organization with one customer that Southwest Airlines. And you know, at the end of the year, the Executive Leadership determines whether or not to renew our contract and pieces of that behind it was first of all, to set the vision for the team as we grew it that we were a service organization to the rest of Southwest and get out Out of the tactical mindset that I think a lot of corporate recruiting functions get into where it’s just fill in racks, I’m doing this thing, and it’s just very transactional, if you will, and at times somewhat comforting. Because once again, if you’ve spent time in an agency, if you don’t fill roles, you don’t pay bills, you don’t eat, you don’t do those things. And so part of it was, hey, we’re lucky that you’ve got this great customer. But we can’t take that for granted. And we need to work with speed, and we need to work with that we’re trying to retain and, man, it is actually kind of a cool thing. When you have a department leader, say good things, or refer maybe if you did a unique approach with them, and they tell a peer, hey, go talk to ta about doing what they did for us. Or obviously, when you have employees that are referring other people to you, that certainly speaks to all that, but but we did want to have all those kind of pockets covered, where for me, it’s, Hey, Southwest, and the aviation industry as a whole airlines are very labor intensive, you know, you have to have people and so we’re always going to need people and at Southwest, we want them representative of our brand and that culture, and those kinds of things. Because that’s what makes people come back and fly us again and again and again as our people. And so that’s really, really critical. And so just taking that approach that says hey, not only do I need to be able to staff what you have for me today, in 2023, but I’m thinking about 2025 2026 2027, as well and beyond and all that and everything in between. And that’s what we want our executive and our leadership, if you will, to just know that they can count on us for that.

Rob Stevenson 26:59
Yeah, of course, I wanted to ask Greg, because you have so many awesome campaigns going on over there. But also you have the resources of this huge company to in order to do so 250 plus people on the Talent Team. So for the folks out there who are maybe working at smaller companies, and they’ve got rolls right in front of them. And it’s like, alright, filler go home. But they’re probably hearing you being like, Yeah, I wish I had the time to do some talent development. I wish I had time to be kind of moving people who applied to one job into another one. What advice would you give them so they can prioritize some of this stuff? And and maybe think of these longer term tactical approaches that you have with a larger company?

Greg Muccio 27:38
Yeah, you know, and I think it’s a great question. And sometimes when I’m at conferences or other things, and just talking to peers, we kind of get into that. And then it just to me, it really just becomes about scale, right? So you don’t have to do everything. But I think if you stop and look, and go, Okay, what’s one thing I can do tomorrow or next week to make us better than what we were today? It doesn’t have to be huge. But if you do it and you do it, well, you’re better than what you were the day before. And that’s huge. And then try to do that again. And I think too, that there’s things that will work better. Everyone know, you know, how your company operates and those kinds of things. And so to me, it’s just, it’s those little gains. That’s the thing with where we’ve got running today, like, we weren’t bad or not this way, yesterday, and I just turned over like I’ve been in TA for 22 years, I’ve been leading it for, I don’t know, the past five to seven fully. So I didn’t get in great shape overnight, right? It was the discipline of day to day, and then just constantly challenging yourself. I think that’s one of the things that I become really proud of our team is just, they don’t think about our competitors. They don’t think about a lot of other things. They just kind of look at themselves in the process within the customer maybe that they’re supporting and going, how can we make this better? And sometimes that’s looking in the mirror and going well, I built this, I thought it was really awesome. But now somebody else can go make it better. And can I check my ego at the door? Can I be comfortable and allow that to happen?

Rob Stevenson 29:16
Yeah, Greg, it is clear that you have a lot of passion for this job. And it comes through and just all of this knowledge you’ve shared over the last half hour or so. So at this point, as we creep up on optimal podcast length here I would just say thank you so much, Greg for being here. I’ve learned a ton for you today, so I’m really glad you joined me

Greg Muccio 29:33
know thanks for reaching out. Thanks for asking me it was a lot of fun.

Rob Stevenson 29:39
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