Chick-fil-A: Values don’t change with changing times

Relevance and continuity are two keys to Chick-fil-A’s past and future success, according to three generations of the chain’s founding Cathy family, who spoke to students Saturday at the annual Michael E. Hurst Educational Forum, sponsored by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.

Dan Cathy, the 1,500-unit chain’s president and chief operating officer, was joined by his father, Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy, and son, Andrew, human resources consultant, to discuss the importance of values in life and in business, and how the Cathy family is making sure those values stay intact with the changing times.

Dan Cathy noted that unlike public companies, where chief executives can turn over every five to seven years, privately held Chick-fil-A is able to perpetuate its core values to the benefit of the business.

“Continuity of principles and skill knowledge is important,” Dan Cathy said. “We get smarter with each generation.”

The traditional family unit is how we teach our values, he said, noting that his parents had three children, who in turn had 12 children. Andrew, 31, is the oldest of the third generation.

Aware that only 30 percent of businesses make it through the second generation, Andrew Cathy said that the family is currently establishing rules for successfully transitioning to future generations. Among one of the primary edicts: Family members must have at least two years of experience working somewhere else before joining the Atlanta-based company.

Truett Cathy, who at 89 years old is still working, said his most important guidelines for his progeny include no fighting about money, a continued promise to close the chain restaurants on Sundays and to never take the company public. He noted that Warren Buffett “camped on his doorstep for 10 years” hoping to acquire the company and finally gave up.

In terms of staying relevant, as consumers change and adapt to new technologies and social media functions, Dan Cathy pointed to the Spicy Chicken Sandwich the chain will roll out on June 7 and the marketing surrounding the item.

The company unveiled on Friday a new website, www.eatspicychicken.com, allowing customers to make reservations for a preview tasting of the sandwich. Chick-fil-A already has 338,000 reservations, he said.

The educational forum brings together select hospitality students, educators and industry members for a day of inspirational speeches and networking. It is capped by the annual Salute to Excellence gala, where Truett Cathy will be honored as the 2010 Thad and Alice Eure Ambassador of Hospitality.

Contact Robin Lee Allen at [email protected]