Linda Rutherford is a 1988 Texas Tech journalism alumna, National Advisory Board (NAB) member for CoMC, and Chief Administration and Communications Officer at Southwest Airlines who thrives on giving back to the college that served her during her studies.
Her passion for helping others reach their career goals is one of the many reasons students in the College of Media & Communication resonate with her. She continuously offers her mentorship through providing leadership to aspiring CoMC students and being an ally for them in the workforce.
During the 2023 Women in Leadership Spring Speaker Series, Rutherford spoke to a room of highly motivated students— including many young women— who are eager to get started in the corporate world after graduation. She provided insights on what has helped her over the years in her professional career and discussed why helping young professionals is a positive boost in the industry.
“One of the first things I always want people to know about me is that I come from a journalism background and began my early career with Southwest Airlines as a public relations coordinator,” said Rutherford. “My entire degree program here was centered around journalism. I'm able to stand before you and speak of my background to say I'm truly the accidental executive for this airline company and I have spent the last 31 years with Southwest Airlines learning on the job.”
Some of the best advice Rutherford gives to professionals pertains to not having a fear of changing careers under certain circumstances. She learned in her early twenties that change allows individuals to grow and presents new advancements that would be overlooked if risks are not taken.
“If you ever find yourself making a pivot or a left turn somewhere in your career, it does not equal failure within your journey,” said Rutherford. “From a professional standpoint, we know exactly where we would like our careers to take us most of the time. As I think about where my career has taken me— I can't tell you it was a planned path or I knew exactly what I would be doing— I learned I enjoy doing the craft of public relations and journalism, but I love seeing a light bulb go off when others do it more. This leads to promotions and endless opportunities.”
During her time with one of the largest airline companies in the United States, Rutherford sees individual success as something that is likely for everyone who knows who they are and what they bring to their employer. She says without knowing one's own strengths, it is difficult to understand an individual's personal strategy.
“It all boils down to what I would call personal brand,” said Rutherford. “When you think of some of the most powerful and hardest working people in the world, countless adjectives may come to mind. When you begin to think about yourself and your personal brand, you should recognize which words describe you the best. This not only depicts something you are naturally good at, but it also shows how you are different than others.”
Despite the challenges individuals face in their careers, Rutherford prides herself in responding to all alumni who reach out to her for tips and job recommendations.
Along with the different experiences in the workforce, Rutherford urges women to not be afraid to have a powerful voice when working with men. She feels this is a top priority since many women tend to fade in the background and allow others to speak for them.
“Sometimes, women have the tendency to mute themselves,” said Rutherford. “Not trying to stereotype anything, but there are some gender differences in relation to this. Sometimes, we're in situations where we know the answer to something, but we are very hesitant to say it out loud and allow someone else to say it for us. Finding the courage to understand your life experiences have given you a perspective to share your thoughts means something in any room you step foot in.”