Posted by Mary Wimberley on 2008-03-03

Chick-fil-A, Inc. founder S. Truett Cathy shared wisdom gleaned from a successful business career that is based on Christian principles at a luncheon at The Club on Monday, March 3.

"I see no conflict between Biblical principles and good business practice," said Cathy, who said he feels called into the restaurant field and considers the business of serving people "a ministry."

"We are all called, whether we recognize it or not. God calls us each to have gifts. The Lord can take any of us and make us useful. We have to be sensitive to God's call," said Cathy at the first of a series of events in a two-day leadership forum sponsored by Samford University.

"How Did You Do It, Truett?" is the theme of the forum, and also the title of his latest book.

At the luncheon, Cathy received the Marvin Mann Ethics-in-Business Award. He is the second recipient of the award, which was established in 2006 by Samford's Brock School of Business.

The award recognizes individuals who embody professional achievement and personal integrity, who display an uncommon commitment to leadership through service, and who have left marks of influence on institutions and industries without compromising Christian virtue or charity.

Cathy was presented the award by Brock School of Business dean Dr. Beck Taylor.

Business people, said Cathy, can have a great impact on other people by saying the right thing, and being encouraging.

"Instruction is what we say. Influence is what we do. Image is what we are," he said.

Cathy told the luncheon audience about his earliest business venture. At age eight, he bought a carton of six bottles of Coca-Cola and sold them for a nickel each. The young entrepreneur quickly learned that on a case of 24, he could make 40 cents profit.

"To me, that was big business," said Cathy, who considers his boyhood in the deep Depression to be a blessing.

"The best experience I ever had was that of being brought up in poverty," said Cathy, whose family moved to Atlanta from south Georgia in order to make a living.

After military service, he and his brother pooled their resources to invest $10,600 in property and used equipment to open the Dwarf Grill in Hapeville, Ga., in 1946. The business was open 24 hours, but closed on Sundays, a practice he continues to this day with his Chick-fil-A chain.The policy, he said, "honors the Lord," and attracts the caliber of workers who appreciate having Sunday off. The practice has not hurt business, he said, noting the current 1,400 locations and $2.6 billion annual sales.

Kindness to customers and fellow workers is another company policy.

"Courtesy is very cheap, but pays great dividends for us. It doesn't cost you anything to be kind to a customer, and to be kind to each other," said Cathy, who encourages employees to follow up their service to a customer with a polite, "My pleasure."

Monday's luncheon, attended by more than 400 members of the Birmingham business community, was sponsored by Brock School of Business in partnership with the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Business and the Master of Arts in Public and Private Management Program at Birmingham-Southern college.

Speakers included Samford president Dr. Andrew Westmoreland and Kayla Becker, a teenager who lives in one of the foster homes that is operated by Cathy and his WinShape Foundation.

Becker moved into a WinShape Home at age nine to escape a difficult family situation in Texas. Once a struggling student, with the help of academic opportunities made available by Cathy, she has excelled.

"He has made my life so much better. His generosity supplies my needs, and my wants, but most importantly, he supplies me with a family," she said, referring to the house parents and foster siblings, and to Cathy himself, whom she calls "grandpa."

"If he hadn't intervened, I'd be a statistic, and never lived out what God wanted me to be," she said of Cathy, whom she fondly calls "grandpa."

The leadership forum continues with a community gathering on Monday evening featuring Cathy and his sons Dan T. Cathy and Donald M. "Bubba" Cathy, and daughter Trudy Cathy White.

Other events are planned for Tuesday.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.