NAPLES, Fla. (BP)–Truett Cathy, founder of the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain, was named the 2008 winner of the William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership on Nov. 7.
The annual award “honors living philanthropists who have shown exemplary leadership through their charitable giving, highlights the power of philanthropy to achieve positive change, and seeks to inspire others to support charities that achieve genuine results,” according to Philanthropy Roundtable, a national charitable giving association. The award includes $250,000, which is to be donated to the charities of the recipient’s choice.
Cathy, 87 and a life-long Southern Baptist, has led his company to donate more than $100 million since 1967, when the first Chick-fil-A opened in Atlanta, with an emphasis on educational scholarships and foster care.
“Giving is one of the privileges we have,” Cathy said. “The more I give, the more I have. Very few people recognize the pleasure of giving — especially when you don’t expect anything in return.”
Cathy has based his business on Christian principles from his first days of running a 24-hour a day restaurant in south Atlanta 61 years ago. He and his brother owned that restaurant and decided from the beginning to close on Sundays. His 1,400 Chick-fil-A restaurants, including the mall sites, all close on Sundays, even though fast-food restaurants traditionally do 20 percent of their business on that day.
“Everybody needs a day of rest and a day to worship if they choose,” Cathy said. “That’s the best business decision I ever made. We do more business in six days than our competition does in seven days.”
He jokes that he permits his customers to “eat somewhere else one day a week as long as they eat with us the other six days.”
Living out your convictions has been Cathy’s theme throughout his career. He believes success is simple: good customer service and quality food.
Since teenagers comprise a major part of his workforce, Cathy believes part of his mission is to train them to be good employees.
“For a lot of our employees, we give them their first job. We want to help them establish good work habits and good attitudes,” Cathy said. “It’s a mission field.”
He teaches kindness and courtesy to his workers. When a customer says “Thank you,” he asks his employees to respond, “My pleasure.” He also requires employees to do all kinds of jobs — including the less desirable ones.
“Clean restrooms are important in the restaurant business. If people see a dirty restroom, they’ll think other parts of the building might be dirty. No one is above cleaning a restroom,” said Cathy, who also has invested himself in training children. Last year he retired from 51 years of teaching Sunday school to 13-year-old boys at his church, First Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ga.
The award Cathy received gives him another opportunity to support some of his favorite charities. While Cathy is known for awarding $1,000 scholarships to Chick-fil-A employees — $24 million so far — he also established WinShape Foundation, which seeks to foster winning leadership qualities in young people. He also has built 12 WinShape foster homes that provide quality care for children. Chick-fil-A has donated $100 million to foster care, marriage enrichment and camp retreats.
Cathy will donate his winnings to two Union City, Ga., organizations: Christian City, a foster care facility, and Southwest Christian Care, an organization that provides respite care.
Sherri Brown is staff writer for the Georgia Baptist Convention’s office of communications services.