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Current Page: Leadership | Tuesday, February 19, 2019
Daughter of Chick-fil-A founder shares father’s most valuable life lesson, secret to success

Daughter of Chick-fil-A founder shares father’s most valuable life lesson, secret to success

Commuters walk past a Chick-fil-A freestanding franchise in Midtown, New York, October 3, 2015. | Reuters/Rashid Umar Abbasi

Trudy Cathy White, the daughter of Chick-fil-A's founder, revealed in an interview with The Christian Post the most valuable life lesson her father taught her and the secret to the national fast food restaurant's success.

White, the only daughter of S. Truett Cathy and his wife, Jeannette, released her first book, titled Climb Every Mountain: Finding God Faithful in the Journey of Life, in which she takes a candid look at her life and the struggles she's faced over the decades. 

The book journeys through White’s childhood growing up with her two brothers on the family's farm in Georgia and details some of her adolescent experiences. She also tells how at age 19, she convinced her father to let her run a Chick-fil-A restaurant. White met her future husband at that restaurant and the couple later raised four children together.

White and her husband, John, also lived in Brazil for a time where they served as missionaries. Their work experiences in the U.S. and with foreign missions led them to co-found two nonprofit groups — Lifeshape, which offers a multitude of service projects worldwide, and Impact 360 Institute, which offers gap-year fellowships to equip young adults "to become Christ-centered servant leaders."

She felt it was time to share her life story and her memoir tackles such topics as identity, godly parenting, leaving a legacy, adversity, aging and coping with grief.

Below is an edited transcript of CP's interview with White:

CP: Will you tell us about your testimony?

TW: I was raised in a home where I was taught much about the love of God. I was about 7-and-a-half when I realized I wanted to embrace the kind of love that I had heard about from this Heavenly Father.

Trudy Cathy White releases her memoir, "Climb Every Mountain," on Feb 12, 2019. | ICON Media Group

I knew that Jesus loves me, that He had died on the cross for me, and that He was offering me the gift of eternal life. I knew that if I would believe that, I would receive that.

It's been a joy to walk with the Lord since I was a young child. But I’ve not always made the decisions I should've made as a follower of Christ. However, it's kept me from making some that I might have made if I wasn't following Him, for sure.

CP: People throughout America love Chick-fil-A. We have to ask, what’s the secret?

TW: We do appreciate the fact that we feel like God is blessing our business. I don't know that there's really a secret to it. My dad built this business based on biblical principles. He felt like his business decisions kind of go hand in hand with biblical principles. That's no secret. There's a lot of things that we are taught in God's Word and we've been able to put it into practice in our business.

Above everything, I think at Chick-fil-A we've gotten real clarity of our purpose of why we're in business. That's been really important to us. Back in the early '80s, we recognized the fact that we didn't have a real clear direction as to why we were in business. But we know today that we're in business to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that's been trusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.

We love selling chicken but we're really more in the people business.

CP: How has Chick-fil-A changed your life?

TW: I don't know that it's changed me as much as it's maybe given me a perspective to be very much aware that God owns everything. So watching this business grow has been really exciting because we feel like the Lord is just giving us more and more opportunity of responsibility to manage what He's entrusted to us.

That's truth in all of life. We have to realize that the very God who created us is the very God who gives us talents and gifts to be used, to honor Him.

I think one of the reasons I've written this book, Climb Every Mountain, is because I really want to steward well my opportunity of influence with other people. So by opening myself up and just sharing some of life’s struggles and challenges that I've dealt with through the years, I hope it'll be very helpful for someone else to realize that even though we all have a lot of mountains to climb in life, you can always find God's faithful in that journey.

CP: What are the most valuable lessons you learned from your father?

TW: I think the most important thing we have to do is to be faithful to the calling that God has put on our hearts and to live that out consistently. I greatly admired my dad as one who lived a very consistent life. It didn't matter whether he was at home, whether he was at the office, or whether he was in a meeting with other CEOs, he was just always the same.

I think that we bear great witness to who God is and His faithfulness when we can be faithful as well in how we live out our life. One of the things that my parents taught us is that the important things can't be bought with dollars and cents. The important things in life are people looking for joy, peace and hope, and you won't find those things for sale or in a store. Those things you will find in the truth of God's Word and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Jesus said in this life you will have trouble. He didn't say you might, He said you will. We all have trouble. But then, in that same book of the Bible, it goes on to say, "do not be afraid" (John 14:27) for "I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). 

Other than the foundation that our parents gave us in our Christian faith, I think one of the things that my dad taught me was how to care for other people. My dad told me this since I was a little girl, he said, "Trudy, if you will help others get what they want in life, you will eventually get what you want out of life."

Dad helped me understand this concept that we can look at others and see what their needs are and help them to accomplish what they want to accomplish, and we’ll find some great reward out of that. Jesus said it real simple. He said, "it's better to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). 

CP: Your family has received a fair share of hate and criticism because you hold to biblical standards when it comes to social issues. How do you handle it all?  

TW: I think everybody in life maybe has to deal with negativity in some form or fashion. I think for us, our perspective is, you can't really control what other people think or what other people say, I can't do that. But you can control what you think and what you know about yourself.

A big part of this, I think, is wrapped up in this word — identity. I believe that everybody's always searching, "who am I?"

I know for my own life that's a loaded question to ask, "who am I?" I’ve got lots of roles that I play. I'm a wife and a mother and grandmother, an author, speaker, and the real question is not so much "who am I" but "whose am I?"

That's very profound to realize the fact that my identity is not wrapped up in who I am and what I do. That it's more about who I belong to and what God is wanting to do in my life. I know that God created me and so He owns me. And the fact that He chooses to do His work through me is a very exciting thing.

CP: What does the title of your book, Climb Every Mountain, mean?

TW: The reason I call this book Climb Every Mountain is because when I look at a mountain, I see a symbol of God's character — that He is always constant, that His strength is unchanging, His presence is unchanging, and He's always there for us.

At the same time, when I look at mountains I see life's challenges. I think, "boy, life is tough." But I tend to grow more in my difficulties than I do in the comfort of days.

CP: What advice do you have for Generation Z and millennials who are figuring out what they're called to do?

TW: I have three tools to help us on the climb of life. You kind of discover your purpose as you go through life, you get greater and greater clarity. I would define these as three tools that are necessary for this climb.

One would be just the tool of truth because you need to know God, first of all, and you need to recognize your need for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Because aside from that, you're not going to get much clarity.

The second tool, I would say, is the tool of understanding that God never wastes experiences.

So when we go through these difficult times in life, we have to realize the fact that God is in the process of building character into our lives. He wants to change and transform our lives. So we have to be understanding that God is going to use this and God is up to something in my life. And that is really helpful for us to bring in just a little bit more clarity of what it is God wants us to understand about our own life.

The third tool on this list would be just this idea of the fact that we need the tool of dependency. We need to recognize the fact that we need to depend on God in every circumstance of life.

So when we put all three of these tools into practice, then I think it does help us to understand a little bit better what our purpose is. Look at your own skills and talents that you've been given, and then how do you maximize those for His glory?

CP: What is some of the godly parenting advice you offer in your book?

TW: I felt it was important to address parenting and home life because I know the impact that it's had on my own life. We have now raised four children and we've got 15 grandchildren, and marriage is something that requires commitment.

Obviously, there's no perfect marriage and there are no perfect people, but anything that's worth having is worth investing into. I challenge parents to work hard at their marriage and keep it really strong at the same time. I would tell parents that the best thing they can give to their children is the love that they give to their spouses, to one another. That’s the most precious thing you can give to your children.

Parents sometimes get a little worried, because oftentimes it seems like children aren’t listening to them. I understand that. I've been down that road before as well. But at the same time, I think we probably don't have to worry about that as much as we do need to be concerned about the fact that children are always watching us. So we need to be the best example we can be for our children.

CP: What would you like people to take away from your new book?

TW: I want them to understand that personal challenges are part of life. It doesn't matter who you are, what you have, or even who you're related to. Life is going to be hard, but the great thing about this is that we never have to do life alone.

God says, "I will never leave you and will never forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5). Even in our darkest of times, He will always be there for us. So I hope that’s a word of encouragement for anybody that's out there trying to do life. We all have our struggles. We need to know that we're not alone.

For more information on Climb Every Mountain, visit TrudyCathyWhite.com.

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