The Cathy file Featured

11:50am EDT March 17, 2004
Born: 1921, Eatonton, Ga.

 

First job: Newspaper delivery boy

 

Career moves: U.S. Civil Service; U.S. Army, restaurant manager; owner (with brother) of Dwarf Grill; founded Chick-fil-A in 1967

 

Sponsorships: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, the annual college football match-up between top teams for the Atlanta Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference; LPGA Chick-fil-A Charity Championship

 

Publications: The Generosity Factor (2002 Blanchard Family Partnership and STC Literary); Eat More Chikin: Inspire More People (2002 Looking Glass Books)

 

What is the greatest business lesson you've learned?

Even though you are successful in one business, you may not necessarily be successful in other businesses. Stay in your area of expertise.

What is the greatest business challenge you've faced, and how did you overcome it?

The recession of 1982 presented a challenge. Interest rates were above 20 percent, and our sales figures were dismal. Our executive committee gathered together in an off-site location, and after several hours of discussion, developed our Corporate Purpose: To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.

We established a goal to live and work toward.

Whom to you admire most in business and why?

 

J.B. Fuqua, because he taught me by example. 'The more you give, the more you have.'

 

 

 

Bonus questions:

 

You grew up during the Great Depression. How does your upbringing differ from the experience of your children, all of whom are involved in the business?

 

I have three children who are very active in my business, but they don't have the advantage of going through the Depression, where they had to struggle for their existence. That's been to my advantage to have that experience, although it's not the kind of experience you ask for. It's just handed to you.

It's how we handle our difficult situations that make a difference. Most of us can fare pretty well when everything is normal. The test comes when you have difficult situations. That's a growing period, or it could be a time of discouragement where you give up because you're not having the things you expect in life.

 

When you and your brother opened that first restaurant following World War II, there were some challenges getting materials and labor. Did you ever think of stepping away from the business?

 

It was a good thing I was ignorant in that respect. I thought with $10,600 you could buy any part of the world that you wanted. We made it through.

The hard part is getting started. A lot of people have dreams and aspirations to achieve certain goals they set for themselves. It's easy to get discouraged, but I was fully committed to the task.

 

You've spent 49 years teaching Sunday school. You do an enormous amount of charity work. What benefit comes from that?

 

I've been permitted to do a lot of things that otherwise I wouldn't be able to do if I hadn't had the resources. I have 14 foster homes. We built the homes.

We try to identify those who do not have any serious behavior problems; they're just victims of circumstances. We've been successful. I have 135 children that I've played the role of adoptive grandpa for them. I told them they don't have to call me grandpa, but those that call me grandpa get more.

It's a big joy to drive out to the homes. They come running out of the house, 'Grandpa's here, grandpa's here,' get yourself a hug and sometimes a kiss on the cheek. Those things you can't buy with dollars and cents.

 

What are your hobbies outside the office?

 

I like motorcycles and I like automobiles. That's one of my weaknesses, collecting classic cars. I'm doing the things now that I wished I'd had when I was 18.

I get a lot of enjoyment in things that I do, but I get enjoyment coming to the office as well. So why would you give up something where your heart is? If you've got heart and soul into it, it's not work at all. It's a pleasure.