If you type the name Linda Rutherford into any trusted search engine, you are bound to come across one of Texas Tech University's very own. A 1988 graduate, Rutherford is now vice president of communication and strategic outreach for Southwest Airlines based in Dallas. She has become a successful business person through hard work and determination.
Rutherford is a mother of two, and she will be the first to tell you that getting to the top of her game was never easy. Rutherford and her sister were raised by their single mother, and she often says one of her biggest accomplishments was going to college in the first place.
Rutherford said her family had access to everything they really needed, but college was a luxury. Finding herself $1,000 short as tuition was due, Rutherford was named a Dallas Rotary Club Walter Smauder Scholar and granted the saving scholarship at the very last minute. Throughout her years in the college, she wrote for the University Daily, working her way up to editor her senior year, and she later joined the Newsweek crew as a correspondent.
Rutherford graduated with a major in journalism and a minor in Spanish. She said Texas Tech's journalism department taught her three things: to be naturally inquisitive, to nurture a love of writing, and to be a lifelong learner. Rutherford said she still uses the lessons on a daily basis.
"If you are a strong writer," she said, "you will be able to do anything you want to do."
After graduation, Rutherford went to work for the Dallas Times Herald as a reporter until the paper closed in December 1991. Rutherford then did freelance assignments for both the Dallas Observer and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.
During her time at the Herald, Rutherford had worked with Southwest Airlines on several occasions, and she became interested in their work.
"I was always intrigued by the airline industry," she said. "There was always something different about Southwest."
Southwest Airlines' hiring department called Rutherford in June 1992 for a permanent job. Shortly thereafter, Rutherford became the fifth member of the public relations team, and she has worked her way up through the company in the past 20 years.
Rutherford said her original duties included event planning, news releases, and media relations. Rutherford is now in charge of media and strategic public relations, employee communications, emergency response and business continuity planning, philanthropy and community relations, graphic design and multimedia, and community affairs and grassroots.
In layman's terms, Rutherford covers everything from media interaction to making sure the company is prepared for emergencies, and recruiting employees to volunteer for a multitude of nonprofit organizations.
"In the last 20 years, we've grown all those practices," Rutherford said.
Rutherford said that her elevator speech is all about "surround sound," making sure good conversations are happening about Southwest. She said Southwest wants to develop and nurture mutually beneficial relationships and strategic partnerships within the community.
Outside of work, Rutherford serves on a plethora of committees and has held executive positions in each organization.
Rutherford said Texas Tech has some of the proudest alumni and encourages students to reach out to the network of people they are lucky to have. When alumni visit the campus and classrooms, students can connect what they learn in class to actual experience and that is invaluable.
Rutherford said students can spend an hour with the alumni in class and form no connections, or they can use the opportunity to start a relationship.
Rutherford gave plenty of tips on how to spark up a conversation but also said students have to be looking for those opportunities.
"Certainly any alum would be open to a phone call or coffee," she said.
Rutherford said she uses her degree every day, and she urges media and communication majors to practice writing and get experience. She stresses the importance of being an observer and always knowing you can use your writing skills in whatever field you choose.
At her main Southwest Airlines office in Dallas, Rutherford oversees a team of about 90 employees and her department works to serve tens of thousands of people both inside and outside the organization. Southwest Airlines helps out notable organizations like Ronald McDonald House Charities, awards nonprofits where employees volunteer through a "Tickets for Time" program, and manages its own education program, called Adopt-A-Pilot, which was launched in 1997.
Rutherford is happily married and has raised both of her families, at home and at Southwest Airlines. She enjoys learning new things every day and meeting new people, especially fellow Red Raiders. mc
Randi Leigh Thomas is a junior journalism major from Big Spring, Texas.