The Citadel Director’s Institute brings Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy to South Carolina business leaders
By Jennifer Wallace
In a room filled to capacity with business leaders from around South Carolina the Chairman and CEO of Chick-fil-A, Dan Cathy, discussed the role of governance and family in the fast-food chain. Cathy was one of two keynote speakers at the 2016 Citadel Directors’ Institute held in late April at the Francis Marion Hotel in Charleston.
Family values and strong faith were the central theme of Cathy’s message as he discussed the restaurant chain’s meteoric rise.
“We’re a business that still acknowledges in God we trust,” he told the audience.
Cathy’s father S. Truett Cathy began the family business in 1946 when he sold his car and borrowed money from the bank to open a burger restaurant in Atlanta called the Dwarf Grill. After creating the Original Chicken Sandwich in 1965, the elder Cathy opened the first Chick-fil-A in an Atlanta mall in 1967. By 2014, Chick-fil-A had evolved into a fast-food giant that surpassed $5 billion in sales.
The board of directors, Cathy said, began around the dinner table before he could even shave. Cathy, his brother and sister were all named shareholders. “My father had no tolerance whatsoever in reporting to a board of directors,” Cathy said. “It wasn’t until he passed away that we asked people to serve on a board.”
Harmony in the family business has always been important, Cathy also noted. “It was always our practice to keep wrestling with a problem until we came to a consensus. The ultimate goal was to preserve the family unity.”
The brand the Cathys have strived to create is also based on family. Cathy said the company gets 20,000 applications a year from franchise wannabes, but only 75 or so are granted. “We are creating an oasis-kind of experience for our customers where we treat them with honor, duty, respect,” Cathy said, citing The Citadel’s core values. “We want them to know that we really care about them as people. It’s the idea of being a good steward, and genuine hospitality and local ownership is a meaningful part of the brand.” Cathy’s nephew Luke graduated from The Citadel in 2014.
Now in its seventh year, The Citadel Directors’ Institute is a one-day workshop sponsored by the School of Business to connect some of the country’s leading experts to discuss current and emerging issues as well as strategic planning, risk and board governance.
Jennifer Wallace is the director of publications for The Citadel Office of Communications and Marketing