Doing Business the Chick-fil-A Way

Sarah E. Smith | Special to | Wednesday, August 7, 2002

Doing Business the Chick-fil-A Way

Since 1946, when, along with his brother, Ben, he opened his first restaurant (an Atlanta diner called The Dwarf Grill), S. Truett Cathy has been following faith-based business principles to build his successful restaurant chain, Chick-fil-A , which he founded in 1967. Today, Chick-fil-A, headquartered in Atlanta, has more than 1,040 restaurants in 34 states and Washington, DC. The fast-food chicken restaurant is the third-largest quickservice chain in the United States based on sales, which reached $1.24 billion in 2001.

Cathy attributes his success to his Christian faith (at 81, he still teaches Sunday School to 13-year-old boys) and his adherence to faith-based principles and values.  On July 26, he appeared before the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection on Oath Taking, Truth Telling, and Remedies in the Business World. Cathy shared with committee members how he balances the pursuit of profit and personal character. "For me, I find that balance by applying biblical principles," he testified. "I see no conflict between biblical principles and good business practices. We've tried to operate Chick-fil-A that way from the beginning."

After his committee appearance, Cathy spoke with journalists about the importance of corporate responsibility.

Smith: How have you built Chick-fil-A into a successful restaurant chain?

Cathy: We follow this simple rule: you need to do things right each and every time. It's better to cater to the customers we have than to recruit new customers.

Smith: What faith-based principles and values do you adhere to that impact your business decisions?

Cathy: While you don't have to be a Christian to work for Chick-fil-A, we want employees to base their business decisions on biblical principles because they work. My corporate purpose is: "To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to our care."

I decided with my first restaurant, The Dwarf Grill, to close on Sundays because I wanted to ensure our employees had an opportunity to worship, spend time with family and friends, or just to enjoy a day of rest. Every Chick-fil-A restaurant is closed on Sundays.

Smith: What other ingredients are essential to your business success?

Cathy: Good leadership is a key to any business. We can teach employees to cook the Chick-fil-A way but we can't change their character. We have a good retention rate because we look for quality, stable and loyal people. We have a theme-"Courtesy is cheap but it pays great dividends"-that we teach our employees. We also help our community and young people with college scholarships and foster-care homes.

Smith: Why were you invited to testify before Congress on corporate responsibility?

Cathy: The committee wanted to know how you can operate a business honestly, and they asked me to talk about putting people before profits and climbing with care and confidence-basically how we do business at Chick-fil-A.

In my new book, Eat Mor Chikin: Inspire More People , I outline five steps for business success: climb with care and confidence, create a "loyalty effect," never lose a customer, put principles and people ahead of profits, and close on Sundays.

Smith: Why is corporate responsibility important?

Cathy: We have a responsibility to our employees to give them abilities and securities. We ask them to invest a good part of their life in our restaurant and we need to give something back.

Smith: How can businesses develop good corporate responsibility?

Cathy: I think the number-one thing is to develop young people. The restaurant industry often gives them their first job, so we need to train them well and see to it that they establish good behavior habits. We also need to invest in the community, which we do through our WinShape Centre Foundation, which helps young people with scholarships and other youth-support programs, WinShape Homes, a long-term care program for foster children, and Camp WinShape, a summer-camp program.

Sarah E. Smith writes for from Arlington, Va.

PHOTO by AP/Wide World Photos: S. Truett Cathy, founder and chairman of Chick-Fil-A, Inc., appears before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection on Capitol Hill Friday, July 26, 2002. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)