Truett Cathy, the founder and President of Chick-fil-A, died yesterday in Atlanta at age 93. One may think what the significance of a business owner who sells chicken have to do with lawn care in Tulsa, Oklahoma, so allow me to explain.
20 years ago, as a still wet-behind-the-ears 39 year old business owner of 10 years, I wrote a letter to Mr. Cathy telling him of my admiration for him and the way he conducts his business, especially from a Christian perspective. His secretary actually called me back a few weeks later and invited me out to Atlanta to meet with Mr. Cathy. So I excitedly flew out to Atlanta to personally meet with Truett Cathy at the Chick-fil-A headquarters. I really didn't have an agenda, other than just having the opportunity to personally meet a very successful business owner whom I admired and wanted to learn from. I don't even remember what Truett and I talked about while in his office for 20 minutes or so. He took me to eat lunch at the cafeteria, where we had, you guessed it, chicken sandwiches. I still have the styrofoam cup from the Coke in my office. He introduced me to his son Bubba I remember, and took me on a tour of their little museum at the headquarters. I believe that Truett spent about an hour and a half with me, a young (it's all relative) businessman aspiring to build a business similar to Chick-fil-A, but in lawn care.
As I have read some of the media coverage of his death, I'm amazed, and a little angry, that half of the information is about the recent flap over comments about their stand on not supporting gay marriage. Why is that even talked about? What should be discussed is what a great man Truett Cathy was, as a husband, father, and businessman. Here was a man who from very humble beginnings, with hard work, dedication, and a strong Christian faith, built one of the best businesses in the country. They have good food, and great service. They have experienced great growth, to over $5,000,000,000 in sales, with healthy profits. But how they have grown and conducted their business, and what they do with some of their profits for our communities, is what separates Truett Cathy and Chick-fil-A from 99% of the other businesses in our country.
Truett Cathy did not leave his Christian faith in the church pew while working Monday through Saturday. He used the principles of faith in conducting and growing his business, with staying closed on Sundays just one of many practices they followed. Didn't seem to affect their growth and profits much. They have funded and built things for kids, such as foster homes and summer camps. Chick-fil-A sponsors things like leadership and marriage conferences. They and their store operators give back millions of dollars to local communities, especially supporting kids and education. The recent Keith's Ice Cold Lemonade Stand supporting the Little Lighthouse, is just one of many examples of a local Tulsa operator giving back to our community. They provide scholarships for students to attend college who have worked at Chick-fil-A. I don't believe there is any large company who gives more back to the communities we all live in than Chick-fil-A, and it all started from the values and leadership of Truett Cathy.
Truett and his company have always been one of my mentors, without them even knowing of it. I've wanted to build a lawn care business by using some of the same values and processes that his company has. I believe that our customers in Tulsa, Bartlesville, Grand Lake, and now in Oklahoma City, are better served in part due to what I've learned from Truett Cathy and his business. Employees are better taken care of, lawns are more beautiful, and communities are better off. Little ol' LawnAmerica tries to emulate the community stewardship that Mr. Cathy does, as we try to reflect and practice our faith by giving back to others.
Truett Cathy has done what many small business owners strive to do, leave the world a better place through their efforts….leave a legacy. Thank you Mr. Cathy for how you have lived, as it extends much further than just chicken sandwiches. You've influenced countless business guys like me who strive to be like Truett. So I'll go enjoy a chicken sandwich, waffle fries, and a cold Coke in your honor today for lunch!