Chick-fil-A CEO Dan T. Cathy will step down on November 1, ending an eight-year run that saw the chicken chain grow into a more than 2,600-unit empire.
Andrew T. Cathy, Dan Cathy’s son, will take over. Dan Cathy will remain chairman of Chick-fil-A. Tim Tassopoulos, current president and chief operating officer, will continue in his role as well.
Andrew Cathy, only the chain’s third CEO, began his Chick-fil-A career in 2005, working two years as operator of a store in St. Petersburg, Florida. In 2007, he became part of the Support Center Staff as a franchisee selection consultant. After becoming the leader of franchisee selection, Andrew Cathy joined Chick-fil-A’s executive committee in 2015 as chief people officer before becoming head of operations. He then helmed international strategy in 2016 and was named VP of operations in 2019.
S. Truett Cathy, Dan Cathy’s father, opened the first Chick-fil-A in 1967 in Atlanta’s Greenbriar Shopping Center. He started the business, in earnest, in 1946, when he and his brother, Ben, opened an Atlanta diner known as The Dwarf Grill (later renamed The Dwarf House).
“Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to work with and learn from so many Chick-fil-A Operators and executive leaders, including my dad and grandfather," Andrew Cathy said in a statement. "I look forward to continuing to work closely with our great Operators and Staff as we continue to have a positive influence across the communities we serve as a purpose-driven company and one of America’s most trusted brands.”
Dan Cathy became Chick-fil-A’s president and COO in 2001 and CEO in 2013. He added chairman to his title following Truett Cathy’s death at the age of 93 in September 2014. When he was first appointed president and COO, the chain earned $1.24 billion in sales and had just over 1,000 restaurants. By the time he became CEO, the company collected sales of $5.78 billion across 1,881 restaurants. It’s now the highest-earning chicken chain in the country by some distance.
“The most successful CEO transitions are made when the next leader is ready to lead. I have every confidence Andrew is ready,” Dan Cathy said in a statement. “As a privately held, family-owned business, Chick-fil-A is able to look at succession through a longer lens and approach a transition like this in a thoughtful and coordinated way. While rare in business today, deliberate, long-term succession planning provides us with stability and continuity at a time of tremendous opportunity.”
“I’m in excellent health, I continue to love this business and all of you with all my heart, and I’m as energized as I’ve ever been about Chick-fil-A and our shared future," he continued. “Instead, this CEO transition is about Andrew and his readiness to lead us forward.”
Despite being closed on Sundays, the brand reported average-unit volumes north of $5 million in 2020. Among the top 50 highest-grossing (by systemwide sales) fast-food chains in America, Raising Cane’s was closest at $3.85 million.
Chick-fil-A was one of only five chains to eclipse $10 billion in sales last year at $14.1 billion. However, it was far smaller than the rest of the pack. McDonald’s ($40.5 billion), Starbucks ($18.75 billion), Taco Bell ($11 billion) and Wendy’s ($10.2 billion) exited the year with 13,682, 15,328, 6,799, and 5,881 U.S. locations, respectively, while Chick-fil-A finished with 2,607.
Under Dan Cathy’s tenure, Chick-fil-A expanded to 48 states, including breaking into the New York City market in the fall of 2015. It also entered Toronto, Canada, in 2019, and plans to expand to Puerto Rico, as well as Hawaii within the next year or so. Chick-fil-A expanded by a net 107 stores from 2019 to 2020 after adding 130 venues the previous year.
Dan Cathy, 68, told the Atlanta Business Chronicle, “One of the things we learned is that you don’t want to make transitions under crisis. You don’t want to do it when the wheels are falling apart. You don’t want to do it when the leader has long since worn out their welcome and everybody’s kind of waiting on them to retire or to leave. You want to hand that baton off when things are in their best shape ever."
He said, “especially after this last year” it became clear Andrew Cathy was ready to lead. “We were able to see his leadership begin to emerge,” Dan Cathy told the publication, referring to Chick-fil-A’s pandemic response.
He also hinted at future international growth, calling Asia “the big prize.”