It isn’t entirely a new concept. In fact, he didn’t even come up with it. Jesus did. But it’s clear that Dan Cathy, President and Chief Operating Officer for Chick-fil-A, lives by the idea behind second mile service. Matthew 5:41 says, “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.”
While Jesus may have given that edict more than 2000 years ago, S. Truett Cathy, Dan’s father and the founder of Chick-fil-A, is the one who put second mile service into practice in the corporate and restaurant world. It isn’t enough to do the basics; go beyond what the customer is paying you to do. And it’s not just lip service from the top to the bottom. Every executive, including Dan, practices what they preach.
“We make sure the first mile is taken care of,” noted Dan. “And then we go beyond that to the second mile. We provide hostesses, carry trays if necessary, have table try liners. We’ve even gone so far as to change a tire for someone.”
It is that service coupled with strong work ethics and faith-based values that have brought tremendous success to Chick-fil-A, the second-largest quick-service chicken restaurant chain. Truett Cathy began his restaurant career more than 60 years ago with a single eatery in Hapeville, Georgia. The little restaurant was known as the Dwarf House and set the standard for quick-service restaurants. Cathy opened the first Chick-fil-A restaurant in 1967, is credited with creating the original breast of chicken sandwich and was a pioneer in mall fast-food establishments.
Approximately 375 major shopping mall restaurants are in operation today, and to meet the demand for convenience and accessibility, the restaurant began opening stand-alones in 1986. The chain now operates more than 728 stand-alone locations. Several drive-thru only outlets exist along with eleven Chick-fil-A Dwarf House restaurants (throughout metro Atlanta) and Truett’s Grill, which is a full-service ‘50’s diner-themed concept.
The company reached more than $2.6 billion in sales in 2007; a 16 percent increase. Since the first Chick-fil-A restaurant opened, the company has posted 40 consecutive annual sales increases, including double-digit increases the past 14 years straight.
Astonishing figures for a restaurant that is closed on Sunday. Truett Cathy has adhered to a few simple rules that have contributed to their success. Those rules continue to be emphasized today by Dan as well as his brother, Donald (Bubba), who is the company’s Senior Vice President. In addition to second mile service, the secrets to their success include listening to the customer, focusing on getting better before trying to get bigger, and placing an emphasis on quality.
The philosophy and mission of the company is to “glorify God by being a faithful steward to all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.” The result of that philosophy is clear in the numerous accolades and awards received for customer service, retention rates for franchise Operators and team members, philanthropic efforts, as well as being closed on Sunday.
Truett Cathy believes that “being closed on Sunday says two important things to people: One, that there must be something special about the way Chick-fil-A people view their spiritual life; and two, that there must be something special about how Chick-fil-A feels about its people. By giving employees Sunday off as a day for family, worship, fellowship or rest, the company attracts quality people. And people are the cornerstone of all that Chick-fil-A does as a chain.”
The closed-on-Sunday mantra will remain for decades to come, according to Dan. The three Cathy children, including sister, Trudy Cathy White, committed to keeping the traditions founded by their father alive through a spirit of unity contract signed by each of them five years ago.
Dan’s nearly life-long career at Chick-fil-A began at age nine when he sang songs for customers for the chain’s original Dwarf House restaurant. In his role as President and CEO, Dan has personally challenged himself with upholding Chick-fil-A’s efforts to provide genuine, heartfelt hospitality and ensuring that customers chain-wide have an exceptional dining experience. Rather than leading from his corporate office in Atlanta, Dan can often be found traveling the country, choosing to spend the majority of his time with restaurant Operators and committed team members. He often says about himself, “I work in customer service.”
Dan Cathy truly believes that working in the field provides a clearer understanding of the ever-evolving needs and wants from customers, and leading from the front line enables him to personally convey his servant spirit to the chain’s 50,000 employees. He also firmly believes that great leaders serve and often uses SERVE as an acronym to convey his point:
S See and shape the future
E Engage and develop others
R Reinvent continuously
V Value results and relationships
E Embody the values
Dan has participated in numerous grand-opening ceremonies for new Chick-fil-A restaurants, often camping out in restaurant parking lots along with hundreds of customers vying for a chance to win free Chick-fil-A for a year.
“This is the most fun I have ever had at Chick-fil-A,” noted Dan. “I like to have a lot of fun. I always look for different ways to do things, and the creative part keeps me energized.”
In his spare time, Dan has completed the owner/management course at Harvard Business School, earned his pilot’s license (and is, in fact, an instrument-rated commercial pilot), and has run in and completed numerous marathons across the country. Dan is also a passionate trumpet player and avid motorcyclist.
Somehow, through his many travels, personal training of franchise Operators, and spare time interests, he has found a way to have balance his life. He enjoys cooking and makes waffles every Sunday morning for the kids in his Sunday school class. Like his father, he is always at church to teach and play the trumpet during worship services.
“We have to examine within ourselves, where are we spending our time? With Warren Buffet or Solomon?” asked Dan.
He went on to say, “The Bible is filled with timeless truths and principles that will never change. It’s important to keep a blended diet rich in those Biblical principles. Be encouraged by God’s Word. We can learn from current events, but that’s not the final word.”
Dan also often speaks at various events throughout the country, educating business leaders and owners in the finer points of true success.
“There’s no such thing as a Christian business,” he said at a recent event in Indianapolis. “Christ didn’t die on the cross to save a business. He died on the cross to save you, and me.” Chick-fil-A believes in generously rewarding their team members for their dedicated, loyal work. One-hundred-seventy-four franchise Operators were awarded new cars as part of the chain’s Symbol of Success sales incentive program. And while Operators are rightfully rewarded, he believes hard working employees deserve even greater recognition.
“Too often, the people who are rewarded with big salaries are the ones who are the most distant from the customer,” he said. “But in reality, the people in the corporate center aren’t the ones who make the most money for the company.”
To encourage the many young people who work the front lines and to help them reach their full potential, Chick-fil-A offers numerous incentives. Truett Cathy established the Leadership Scholarship Program, which gives $1,000 scholarships to qualifying employees to the school of their choice. Since 1973, more than $23.3 million in scholarships has been awarded. In 2008, Chick-fil-A will award $1.4 million in scholarships to restaurant team members.
Reaching out to the community is also strongly emphasized. Chick-fil-A’s main philanthropic efforts include the WinShape Foundation, which consists of programs to “shape winners” including WinShape Camps, WinShape College, WinShape Retreat, WinShape Marriage, WinShape Wilderness, WinShape International, and WinShape Homes.
Dan is quick to point out that success isn’t a given in any business. And carrying that success into the next generation can be just as difficult as starting a new business.
“Dad is much more entrepreneurial than I am,” stated Dan. “He knows how to make a buck. My skill set is different and may be more appropriate for where the company is at today.”
And the third generation of Cathy’s will bring with them even more eclectic styles and gifts. Dan’s son, Andrew is currently involved in the family business. He opened his own Chick-fil-A restaurant in 2006. Andrew’s younger brother, Ross, is also interested in following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps but has not yet been hired.
Dan noted the importance of seeking an understanding of corporate life from an outside perspective. Just as Andrew did, Ross is currently working for at least two years outside the family business before he can come to work there.
“It’s important to be part of the value system,” said Dan, of his sons. “They need to know business but value systems are more important.”
There is little doubt the value systems Ross and Andrew will pick up from their father will include going the extra mile; second mile service into the next generation.
Theresia Whitfield is an award-winning writer/journalist and is published in more than two-dozen national and international magazines and newspapers. She also provides corporate writing through her company, Fletcher Communications. She lives in Indianapolis, IN with her husband.