S. Truett Cathy, the 86-year-old founder and chairman of Chick-fil-A, is a role model for the restaurant industry. In a career spanning more than six decades, he has managed to grow his business from a single mom-and-pop diner to a multi-billion-dollar chain. His philosophy places as much importance on bettering his employees as it does the bottom line, and the results speak for themselves: Chick-fil-A is the second largest quick-service chicken chain in the nation by sales. In his newest book, How Did You Do It, Truett? (available at Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, various Christian bookstores, and online), he shares his recipe for success.
How are you doing?
I'm doing super and getting better.
I'm letting go all my secrets in this book. The title of it is How Did You Do It, Truett?, so I tried to give you my formula for success. I feel like there are a lot of keys to success, and I've got my own ideas about how I did it. But I still can do better—I will. We're working toward that.
Why did you want to write this book, and who do you hope reads it?
I think that our customers are certainly the ones that I'd be attracting, and those that we desire to be customers. But it's just a way of communicating to other people. Lots of times people ask the question "How'd you do it," and since I've been around for 86 years, I've had a lot that happened to me that other people don't have the privilege of having been exposed to. I was brought up in the deep Depression. I was brought up in poverty, and I've lived in a time of plenty. There's lessons to be learned when you're brought up in poverty because it makes you appreciate what you have, the value of a dollar, the value of working hard, and achieving certain goals you have set for yourself. I think people are mistaken when they say it depends on luck. What I say is the harder you work, the luckier you get.
I think it's safe to say that a lot of your competitors are going to read this new book. Why did you decide to be so candid?
I think we probably have more and more people enjoy eating out because we can compete with our highest competitors simply because of kindness. We practice the golden rule: Treat your customers just like you like to be treated when you go out to eat. You like to be greeted with a bunch of smiling faces, a serving spirit. If the customer says, "Thank you," all of our people say, "It's our pleasure." That shocks people in fast food because normally you don't expect that kind of treatment when you go out to eat, especially in fast food. So we have done just that. Throughout our whole chain people are taught to be kind to the customers. It's very important, and it doesn't cost you anything either.
In your book there's a quote that says, "Truett has focused on keeping the food menu and operations consistent and simple over the past 60 years, always focusing on the Chick-fil-A Sandwich." With other quick-service restaurants now introducing seasonal menu items and other new food products coming out quite often, why keep your focus on the sandwich?
Well, that's been a major part of both the name and production of Chick-fil-A. In the beginning, we had a very difficult time getting the name over because everybody knows what a hamburger is and what a hot dog is, but Chick-fil-A, [they said], "What's that? Is that some kind of pressed chicken or something?"