Cathy is unyielding, both in business and in his personal life. Three years ago, his fortitude was literally tested by fire.
On April 29, 2001, Cathy was involved in a brush-fire accident while working on his property, putting him in the hospital for 10 days. Instead of leaving him bitter, the experience prompted personal and spiritual growth for the businessman.
During his recovery, Cathy listened to CDs of the Gospels. "I had so much fun listening to those CDs because I heard stories about Jesus that I had not heard in a long time," he remembers.
"I became deeply convicted that I had become far more infatuated with ... business commentators as leadership models than Jesus Himself. [I'd been] taught all those Sunday school lessons and listened to all those sermons, but I had failed to appreciate Jesus as a leader as He went about leading people. So I have a much more practical, focused view of trying to lead like Jesus as a result of that experience than I would have otherwise."
Cathy says that the experience "inaugurated the second half of my life." He adds that the remaining scars remind him that "God doesn't place nearly as much importance on our physical condition as He does our spiritual condition."
He adds, "God can use those circumstances to teach us great lessons."
Since the accident, Dan Cathy has made a point of reading Scripture every day. He carries a miniature Bible in his pants' front pocket.
Today's key verse? Colossians 13:12: "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience."
"My wife ... and people that know me, they know I'm still living a long way from what's here [in God's Word], but this helps me square where true North is," Cathy says.
So what does it take to be a successful Christian and a successful businessman? Cathy says that it boils down to this: "Look for opportunities to serve."
"That's what the marketplace rewards," he explains. "Dig deeper the foundation for treating people with respect. ... When we operate in violation of that, we pay the consequences."
He practices what he preaches ...
Cathy just pulled in to one of his restaurants. As he makes his way across the parking lot, he notices a Styrofoam cup on the ground. He bends over to pick it up as he makes his way inside. He smiles and holds open the door for a customer.
"The Bible says 'to whom much is given, much is required,'" Cathy says. "I've got to uphold my dad's reputation. I walk in my own shoes—I feel like I'm my own person. But, at the same time, there's a lot we have to try to live up to here."
THE CHICK-FIL-A TIMELINE
Truett Cathy opens his first restaurant in the Atlanta suburb of Hapeville.
First Chick-fil-A in-mall restaurant opens in Atlanta's Greenbriar Mall.
Chick-fil-A opens its first free-standing restaurant on North Druid Hills Road in Atlanta.
Chick-fil-A corporate headquarters doubles in size.
Chick-fil-A surpasses $1 billion in system-wide sales.
Chick-fil-A opens its 1,000th location.
QSR magazine recognizes Chick-fil-A as the "Best Drive-Thru in America" for second consecutive year.
The Legend of 'The Original Chicken Sandwich'
In 1961, Jim and Hall Goode, owners of Goode Brothers Poultry, came to restaurateur S. Truett Cathy with a problem. An airline had asked them to provide a boneless, skinless chicken breast that would fit the plastic trays they used to serve meals on planes.
The Goodes met the request, but their process left boneless breast pieces that didn't meet the airline's size requirements. They asked Truett, who had toyed with the idea of adding chicken to the menu at his restaurant, if he could do anything with them. Truett discovered the recently introduced Henny Penny cooker, a pressure cooker that used oil and could cook a boneless chicken breast in four minutes, start to finish.
Looking for the best way to serve the chicken, he put it on a buttered bun instead of on a plate all by itself. "But it still wasn't exactly right," he says. He worked for years on seasoning and breading for the chicken. Soon, he was up to more than 20 ingredients—twice as many as Colonel Sanders had in his recipe. Each time Truett changed the formula, he tested it on customers. He surprised them when he added two dill pickles, but they said it added just the right touch. Finally, after four years of experimentation and testing, customers said: "We like it. Don't change it again." The Chick-fil-A sandwich was born.
Why Chick-fil-A Succeeds
Following the example set by founder S. Truett Cathy, who opened the doors of his first restaurant more than 58 years ago, Dan Cathy and company have adhered to a few simple rules:
Honor God. Chick-fil-A's corporate purpose is: "To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A."
Listen to the Customer. Chick-fil-A is a nine-time recipient of Restaurants & Institutions magazine's "Choice in Chains" Customer Satisfaction Award.
People Before Profit. All restaurants are closed on Sundays, giving employees time to worship, to rest and to spend time with their families.
Quality Over Quantity. Close relationships with its restaurant operators are key to Chick-fil-A's success. New restaurant operators are trained personally by Dan Cathy. He frequently invites operators to his home for dinner.
6 Things You Don't Know About Chick-fil-A
1. It began in 1946 in Hapeville, Ga., as a small coffeehouse with four refurbished tables and 10 counter stools that served (gasp!) burgers.
2. Sales in 2003 reached $1.53 billiona system-wide increase of 11.77 percent over 2002.
3. Resting on 75 acres of wooded land, Chick-fil-A's corporate headquarters boasts glass elevators, a spiral staircase and a museum that features a life-sized model of S. Truett Cathy's first restaurant. A bell tower playing Christian hymns greets employees every morning.
4. Cars from S. Truett Cathy's personal collection can be found throughout headquarters, including one of the Batmobiles (there were seven) from the film Batman, starring Michael Keaton.
5. Since 1973, Chick-fil-A has awarded more than $18.5 million in scholarships to its employees.
6. Chick-fil-A's WinShape Centre Foundation—created in 1984 by company founder S. Truett Cathy—consists of a children's summer-camp program, joint scholarships at Berry College in Rome, Ga., and 14 foster homes, which provide long-term care in a family environment for 125 children.
Robert Andrescik is former editor of New Man.
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