Chick-fil-A president and chief operating officer Dan Cathy led a fast-paced mix of music, faith and business wisdom at Samford University Tuesday, co-hosted by the university's School of the Arts and Brock School of Business.
Cathy, leader of one of the nation's most popular restaurant businesses, also is a dedicated musician who takes his trumpet wherever he goes, including to Samford's Reid Chapel, filled to capacity for his appearance. "The real calling of my life is to be a church musician," he said.
Samford president Andrew Westmoreland introduced Cathy as a "renaissance man"-- innovator in customer service, avid motorcyclist, supporter of Christian causes, jet pilot-- but Cathy spoke first through his music, backed by Samford's student Jazz Band.
Music remained at the heart of Cathy's presentation. He pointed out that music is the only universally understood language, which he demonstrated by performing with a full band with only minimal rehearsal.
Cathy said music was very important to his family, which not only worked together but also learned to make music together, led by a mother who sang and danced in Atlanta theaters as a child.
Cathy became so skilled with his trumpet that he was playing professionally by his late teens and touring with musician Phil Driscoll. But Cathy said touring took him into a honky-tonk culture that troubled him. In April 1970, Cathy turned away from that road and toward his family's growing business. He never gave up his music, though, and he finds in that passion threads that connect his work and faith.
He noted that jazz, like business, requires flexibility and sharing of the leadership role, as he demonstrated on this day, trading the spotlight on "Misty" with Chip Crotts, Samford's Grammy Award-nominated professor of trumpet.
Cathy also noted that music "expresses the heart" and, "in its most reverent form is an act of worship." In the same way, Cathy said, his family dedicates its business to service of Christian beliefs. "Our whole purpose of being in business is to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that's entrusted to us," Cathy said, "and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A."
Cathy closed his presentation as he began it, with his trumpet, in an improvisation on The Lord's Prayer.
A brief Q&A session and plush-cow-toss followed as the stage was re-set for another performance by Samford's student Jazz Band, revived by Crotts in 2009. Professor Jim Smisek, School of the Arts dean Joe Hopkins and president Westmoreland joined the group on trumpets.