Start to Finish: What Inspires Execs | February 2014 | By Sam Oches

Start to Finish: Dan Cathy

President and CEO of Chick-fil-A

For Chick-fil-A CEO and president Dan Cathy, foodservice is a family operation.
Chick-fil-A
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I’ve been a “lifer” with this family business called Chick-fil-A. I started visiting our family restaurant, The Dwarf Grill, nine months before I was born. When we were very young, my dad [Truett Cathy] would take me, my brother, and my sister to the restaurant, where we would not only scrape the chewing gum from the bottom of seats and tables, but we would entertain guests with table-side songs. We were reluctant at first—especially since we had to wear the dwarf costumes that my grandmother made for us—but after a while, people started giving us tips. As it turns out, we actually learned a lot about customer service in those days, and I cherish the memories of smiles and laughter that would come from the customers. Dad knew what he was doing when he introduced us to treating customers like family.

I discovered the restaurant business, and specifically Chick-fil-A, as my true calling when my dad taught me that building an organization is as much about people as it is chicken. My life’s work is to impact lives and serve other people, and Chick-fil-A is a great way for me to live that out every day.

Our customers [motivate me]—both inside and outside the business. Impacting the lives of others has always been a great passion for my dad, and he has been my inspiration. Regardless of my title, I actually work in customer service—and with more than 1,700 Chick-fil-A restaurants led by more than 75,000 team members, operators, and corporate staff, I am learning every day more unique ways to serve more effectively.

I hope to be remembered as someone who stayed the course on living out 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.” My dad taught me it is our actions, not our words, that impact others and cause them to take action. I am tremendously proud of how our staff, operators, and team members take this to heart and are consistently led to service and action in their own restaurants and communities.


What was your first job?

Singing to customers at The Dwarf Grill, my dad’s first restaurant, when I was 10 years old.

When did you first enter the quick-service industry?

During my junior year of high school, I started officially working at The Dwarf Grill, making pies and working the grill. After graduating from college, I returned to Chick-fil-A, where I served as director of operations.

What is your favorite type of food (excluding Chick-fil-A)?

Excluding Chick-fil-A, my favorite type of food is barbecue.

What are some of your interests outside of the business?

Aside from spending time with my wonderful family (celebrated my 40th year of marriage to Rhonda in August 2013) and new grandchildren, I play the trumpet, garden, run, and am part of a motorcycle gang called the Moo Cow bikers.

What is the best piece of advice quick-serve executives should hear?

Get out to be inspired. I’ve found that the best way to ensure a constant stream of innovation is to get out of the office. Don’t isolate yourself behind a desk in the name of being productive or casting vision, or protecting your time. My experience is that the best inspiration and ideas come in community with others. Sit with customers. Take a drive with a team member. Walk the halls of the office and have genuine conversations