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In 1985, Southwest Airlines was fourteen years old and operated routes that flew into just thirty airports when Robert Quintanilla joined as a baggage handler. Today, the company operates at 121 airports across 11 countries and operates more than 4,000 flights a day during peak travel periods, while Quintanilla has moved through the company into his current role as managing director of technology services and operations.
Quintanilla has spent the past thirty-eight years growing with Southwest. He earned a degree as an electronic technician from the University of DeVry Institute of Technology before joining the airline company.
“I got my foot in the door because I heard this was a great company to work for, and I wanted to be part of it. Southwest was growing tremendously at the time,” Quintanilla says.
A year later, he was working for technical services as a field technician, performing hardware component-level troubleshooting and repairs in the airports that Southwest served. The hardware equipment included X-Ray machines, flight information display systems, payroll clocks, and reservation terminals.
“This was before the TSA took over the responsibility of all security equipment. We’d have to fly to all these airports when they had broken equipment. We’d replace it or try to repair it on-site so we can keep the operations running,” says Quintanilla, who was one of just six field technicians in 1986.
Eventually, Quintanilla began managing field projects, where he worked with the corporate facilities team to expand and modify Southwest’s airport locations. He provided cost estimates from a technology perspective. He ordered all equipment and managed the scheduling of field technicians to install and test equipment for these projects.
His biggest challenge was when Southwest acquired AirTran and he had to transform its facilities to what Southwest required. He managed upgrading up to three airports at a given time.
In his current role, Quintanilla leads 253 employees, 12 team leaders, and 6 managers across these 5 distinct groups.
The service management team helps improve service quality and govern processes within the organization, such as ticket escalation management, reducing incidents, managing requests, and reducing operational costs.
“Service management puts governance around our processes so that we keep incidents low and to help resolve critical incidents quickly,” Quintanilla says.
Headquarters Corporate Campus Support
The headquarters corporate campus support team maintains all hardware equipment such as computers and audio and visual systems in the seven buildings located on Southwest Airlines corporate campus. It is also responsible for refreshing over six thousand computers annually to maintain up-to-date serviceable equipment.
Technology Enterprise Command Center
The technology enterprise command center team facilitates all critical incidents or outages. It’s a 24/7 group that rallies support teams quickly to systematically isolate software, hardware, and network issues.
“We have to move quickly and resolve our critical outages as soon as we can,” Quintanilla says. “It’s a matter of keeping our internal systems up and running.”
The disaster recovery team manages and documents all technological risks, while working with appropriate teams to corrects issues discovered by internal audit. It also documents support processes for events like hurricane responses and air accidents.
The team must be flexible and prepared to lead the technical division through any situations that may arise. To prepare, the team leads multiple tabletop exercises of mock scenarios to keep support teams ready and prepared for an event.
Quintanilla’s fifth group is the service desk, which is a 24/7 technical call center. The team takes incoming calls that are technical in nature from anyone in the company. It handles over sixteen thousand interactions monthly and maintains a 78 percent first-time fix.
In 2017, this team was recognized and labeled as “World Class” by an external company that performs performance benchmarking specifically for service desk teams across the US. The service desk’s top priority is to provide exceptional customer service and resolve issues quickly.
Working in a dynamic environment like air travel can present significant challenges in technology services and operations. Over the years, Quintanilla and his team have learned to use the past as learning opportunities to establish a set of best practices that minimize the effects of things like critical outages or disaster recovery if and when they arise.
“My team works really, really hard to be prepared in these situations so they can resolve issues in a quick and efficient manner,” Quintanilla says.
In 2018, Quintanilla implemented a walk-up support channel called the “Tech Zone” modeled after Apple’s Genius Bar to support employees on Southwest’s corporate campus. Users can walk up or schedule a time to consult with a Southwest technician to resolve computer or software issues. “They can just bring their laptops over, and the team can help fix any issues on the spot,” Quintanilla explains.
Resolving technical issues is his team’s main focus, but the Tech Zone helps create an environment of hospitality and a great customer experience for Southwest employees. In 2023 they handled over twelve thousand customer interactions meeting a four-minute average wait time and a twenty-seven-minute interaction time.
As a leader, Quintanilla values communication, holding weekly staff meetings with his leaders and learning about what’s going on in each of their areas. He prefers to “coach from the sideline,” staying out of his reports’ way and giving them room to lead.
“I always tell my team, ‘Our team may not directly produce revenue for the company and that’s OK. Our biggest impact is supporting our internal and external customers.’ Providing the best hospitality and helping ensure our technology is reliable helps the airline continue to operate and run smoothly,” Quintanilla says. “We must provide this type of value-add service in order to be considered successful.”
In 2023, Southwest Airlines piloted a mentorship program, during which Quintanilla mentored three Southwest employees over a five-month period.
“It was just sharing experiences. They asked questions on scenarios or how to gain viability or how to approach certain projects,” Quintanilla recalls. “I like to give advice to help people in their careers. Being here thirty-eight years, I’ve seen and experienced a lot. I too had great mentors in my life myself and through my career.”
“Southwest’s philosophy is happy employees equal happy customers, which equals happy investors,” Quintanilla says. “Southwest puts their employees first. They are treated with the same respect and caring attitude that they are expected to share externally with every Southwest customer.”
After thirty-eight years, Quintanilla still appreciates the care and support that Southwest Airlines continues to provide.
Stratix joins Hispanic Executive in recognizing Robert for his outstanding leadership at Southwest Airlines and the important mentorship he does. Mobile technology plays a critical role in Southwest’s commitment to friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel, and we enjoy working with Robert to achieve the airline’s mobile technology goals.