The Truett fingerprint

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While the national restaurant chain has made a name for itself for its single-focus—chicken—Truett Cathy's philosophy and approach is multi-faced. Here's a look:

• A product of the depression-era, Cathy has been steady, but diligent through his corporate expansions, limiting debt as much as possible.

"I built 14 Chick-fil-A units out of my hip pocket," he said. "It gave a firm foundation to be expanding on."

That conservative nature evolved from a childhood touched by the depression. His family worked the farms in southern Georgia until the depression. In desperate need of money, his mother turned their home into a boarding house, taking on guests to help put food on the table.

"I've lived in times of poverty and I've lived in times of prosperity," he said. "Of course, I prefer prosperity."

• Truett said his company honors the Golden Rule and the 10 Commandments.

"We stress don't go to just meet expectations, but go to the second mile," he said. "When you do that you establish a friendship for life."

• In a generation where entrepreneurs have made millions by taking their companies public, Cathy has opted to keep his company private so that he can control how the business is operated. He said going public would add the extra dimension of concern that every shareholder, like every fast-food customer, was satisfied.

"People often want to know how it is you can be honest and successful at the same time," he said. "A lot of people try to take a shortcut.

"Any company can do the things we do, but most of them don't want to." 

• Because Chik-fil-A is a private company, Truett said he has faith in his employees to "operate the business in the way I want the business to be run. If the bathroom isn't clean, it's my fault. They need to have the time, talent and want-to. If they don't have the want-to, it's not going to work."

• While Cathy has long stressed the importance of putting the customer first, he is also loyal to his employees. With 500 career employees working out of the company's Atlanta headquarters, Chik-fil-A's turnover rate is just 3.5 percent.

In addition, employees are eligible for $1,000 education scholarships. To date, the company has spent $20 million providing scholarships to 20,000 employees.

• Family comes first. Married for 58 years to Jeanette, whom he described as a cute, blue eyed-blonde who could tap dance. He calls her the spiritual anchor for the family.

"She's been instrumental in giving proper guidance to our children," he said. "It's a good experience to have someone who supports what you are doing. You have to have a support system or you could be whistling in the dark."

• The couple has two sons, Dan, Don "Bubba," both executives with the company, and a daughter, Trudy, who has served on the foreign mission field in South America. They have 12 grandchilden and 135 foster children, who are housed in 12 long-term homes staffed with houseparents.

In addition, the Cathys established the WinShape Centre Foundation in 1984, which operates a children's summer camp program, and have established a joint-scholarship program with Berry College in Rome, Ga. They also support the Tampa-based All-Pro Dads Day, which encourages dads to take their sons out for conversational meals.

"There's no ballgames. It's just conversation. Talk to your children. Listen to them," he said.


Published, January 2007