Truett has 12 grandchildren (two of whom are Dan's children). Several of them have expressed an interest in making their careers with the company, but they aren't being pushed toward this. In fact, all of the grandchildren are required to do something outside of Chick-fil-A for two years before they are allowed to come on board, Dan says.
He explains: "We're trying to deal with them like Mom and Dad did with us. And that is to obey what God called you to do."
The Cathy family is in the minority in terms of succession. Studies show that only 30 percent of family businesses are ever run by the children of the founders. And why is this?
"Oftentimes the entrepreneur is so caught up in his business that he neglects his family, and he's not a positive role model as a parent," Dan notes. "The children grow up saying: 'I don't want to have anything like that. I won't have that kind of attitude in my home.' But in our situation Dad was a great dad for us."
Truett's example played a key role in Dan's decision to go into the family business. It's also the reason Dan is serving Christ today.
For 50 years, Truett has taught a Sunday school class to 13-year-old boys. When Dan was a boy, he would tag along when Truett would visit the kids from his Sunday school class at their homes. Dan sat and listened as his father shared the gospel with these boys. One day, something clicked.
"I'm sitting there as his son, and I knew I hadn't made a public commitment as a Christian. So God started really working on my heart," Dan remembers.
At the age of 12, Dan made a public profession of faith during a church service. He was baptized on the same night as his sister, Trudy, and his brother, Bubba, who now serves as Chick-fil-A's senior vice president.
"There was a lot of conviction that was deep in my heart," Dan says. "I committed my life totally and sincerely."
To this day, Dan is unabashed in his commitment to God. Even with the push for corporations to be "spiritually neutral," he isn't tempted to play down this aspect of his life.
"I think if you read the headlines today, to me it's an even stronger case for biblical principles to be applied in our personal lives," he says. "You read what took place with Martha Stewart and Ken Lay [at Enron] ... it wasn't because those folks didn't know how to read The Wall Street Journal. It's because they violated biblical principles that they find themselves in that situation.
He adds, "Even the world recognizes when you step over the line with greed and dishonesty and violations of personal integrity."
Driven to Succeed
While Chick-fil-A isn't the largest fast-food chain in America, it continues to raise the bar industry-wide when it comes to quality and customer service.
Last year, the company did more than $1.5 billion in sales, making it No. 17 on the list of Top 50 chains ranked by QSR magazine, a publication that charts quick-service restaurant success. That may be chicken change compared to McDonald's sales, which holds the No. 1 spot at more than $22 billion. But read on.
Chick-fil-A is a nine-time recipient of Restaurants & Institutions magazine's "Choice in Chains" Customer Satisfaction Award. The chicken chain also deep-fries its competitors when it comes to drive-thru service.
QSR ranks drive-thrus in four categories: speed, order accuracy, menu-board appearance and speaker clarity. Chick-fil-A finished in the top three in each of the four categories, making it the "Best Drive-Thru in America" two years running. By comparison, McDonald's placed 12th in QSR's rankings.
Dan Cathy has high expectations for his restaurants. And customers have taken notice.
When you make a mental list of brands that inspire fierce loyalty—Starbucks, Krispy Kreme—think of Chick-fil-A. At each new restaurant opening, the company gives away a year's worth of free food to the first 100 customers who walk through the door. Chick-fil-A "fan-a-tics" come from throughout the country to win this coveted prize.
A group of college students in the Nashville, Tenn., area has traveled to several openings. One woman from Portland, Ore., cashed in her family's Delta SkyMiles to attend an opening in Mishawaka, Ind.
As Chick-fil-A expands into new territories, it finds new fans ... and old friends.
This year, the company recently opened its first stores in California, and Karin Dewey, who relocated this year from Florida to Los Angeles with her husband, is delighted. For her, Chick-fil-A provides more than just a good meal.
"Everyone [in California] is talking about it ... the fact they are closed on Sunday is causing quite a commotion," explains Dewey, whose favorite item on the menu is Chick-fil-A's original sandwich (hold the pickles). "A friend of mine asked me if a Mormon ran them, and when I said, 'No, a [born-again] Christian,' she was very intrigued and wanted to know more about the company. It's actually a great witnessing tool to tell non-Christians about why Chick-fil-A chooses to be closed on Sunday."
Ultimately, though, it's the food that brings people through the door. Bob Kyle, who runs a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Winter Springs, Fla., says, "If you've got bad food and you're a great Christian, you're probably not going to get a lot of customers.
"But we have a lot of [customers] whose loyalty is much deeper than it would have been just to a restaurant with good food. It's more like friends coming through the door, and they relate to you on a values level. They feel like spending money there [at Chick-fil-A] is doing good elsewhere as it's passed along through the corporate chain."