About Dan Cathy
As CEO of one of the nation's largest family owned businesses, Chick-fil-A's Dan Cathy represents the next generation of leadership for the Atlanta-based fast-food chicken restaurant chain founded by his father, S. Truett Cathy. Eager to incorporate his own skills and talents into the business, Dan has taken an unconventional, yet personally and professionally rewarding approach to Chick-fil-A leadership.
With a firm handshake and kind smile Dan T. Cathy, chairman and chief executive officer of Chick-fil-A, greets a family in a restaurant dining room saying, “Hi. I’m Dan. I work in customer service.”
Cathy has been defining his role in “customer service” for more than 40 years — even before officially joining Chick-fil-A, Inc. in 1970. As the eldest son of one of the most influential restaurateurs of the last century, Dan has dedicated much of his life to building upon his father S. Truett Cathy’s pioneering vision to care for people by providing food and customer service that exceeds expectations.
A Lifetime of Service
Dan Cathy literally grew up in his father’s restaurant - he jokingly says he’s been in the restaurant business since “roughly nine months before I was born.” When he and his siblings (younger brother, Donald “Bubba” Cathy, and sister, Trudy Cathy White) were very young, their father would take them to his Dwarf Grill restaurant where they would entertain guests and perform odd jobs. Dan remembers, “Dad would give us each a butter knife so we could scrape the chewing gum (and other things) from the bottoms of each table. We would do that almost every day. It was all very glamorous,” he smiles.
Where the People Are
Spending little time in the office, Cathy is the driving force behind growing the company into a nationally recognized brand and the largest chicken chain (based on annual domestic sales) in the country. Holding purposeful conversations, ideation sessions, and regularly camping out with guests at Chick-fil-A restaurant grand openings all throughout the country, his leadership style stems from a personal belief that working in the field creates a two-fold return: gaining a clearer understanding of his customers’ needs and creating an authentic example of service to more than 100,000 staff and team members.
Remaining more focused on relationships than transactions, Cathy spends each day seeking out opportunities to uphold the company’s efforts to provide genuine, heartfelt hospitality, and ensure that guests have a remarkable dining experience. While a lot has changed in its nearly 70-year history, one principle remains paramount: to work hard and be the best, because, as Cathy puts it, “Chick-fil-A is about people.”
Over the years, Cathy has become known as a respected leader, speaker, and influencer in the business community. He regularly shares his life lessons, business practices, trade secrets, and unrelenting spirit of generosity as it relates to leading others well. “Selfless, servant leadership is about action,” he says, “and the bottom line is that what we say and what we believe will only be as effective as what we are also willing to do.” To Cathy, service is not just something he does; it’s something he lives. Service is helping. Service is smiling. Service is a handshake. It’s the Golden Rule. From helping mothers with children to their tables, to refreshing a guest’s beverage, to a very simple, but meaningful “my pleasure,” Dan believes that every moment of every day is another opportunity to encourage and bring happiness to others by serving them well.
When he’s not traveling, speaking, and sharing the Chick-fil-A story at corporate gatherings, business schools, and other events, he can be found behind the counter of a Chick-fil-A restaurant, because “that’s where the people are.”
Innovation is Everything
Cathy is a voracious learner — always asking questions; always looking to gain new information. “Every day brings another chance for us to grow and learn something new,” he says.
One of his favorite quotes comes from his friend and fellow businessman, Jack Welch: “If the rate of external change exceeds the rate of internal change, failure is imminent.” Cathy applies that thinking to his day-to-day — forever trying to stay ahead of what’s next for his business and his customers.
Several years ago, Cathy played an integral role in opening Hatch, an innovation and design center located inside Chick-fil-A’s Atlanta corporate headquarters, recently renamed the Support Center. Hatch is an 80,000-square-foot warehouse facility with space designed for exploring new store layouts, service innovations, and kitchen operations. “Hatch is a place to open people’s minds to new and exciting things as they help build the Chick-fil-A of the future,” he says. “This is a place to dream and really put form around what could be.” A second facility, a 30,000-square-foot space called The Kitchen, was also recently opened for culinary development.
Under Dan’s leadership, Chick-fil-A has experienced tremendous growth — not just in numbers of restaurants and sales, but also geographically. With recent restaurants going up in cities like Los Angeles and downtown Chicago, Chick-fil-A opened its first restaurant in the Big Apple in 2015, where the Manhattan location enjoys nearly constant out-the-door lines.
In addition to his focus on physical growth, Cathy is also a key figure in championing digital expansion through development of the Chick-fil-A One app, which held a notable reign as the most downloaded app on iTunes with more than 4 million downloads in its first three days.
A Community Influencer
Cathy’s passion for his community can be felt through his involvement in numerous organizations, including the Eagle Ranch, the Carter Center, the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, and the Georgia Aquarium. He is also a member of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, and in 2015 was awarded the Four Pillar Tribute by the Atlanta Council for Quality Growth.
He serves on multiple boards and remains actively involved in various ministries, philanthropies, and nonprofits, including: City of Refuge, Passion City Church, The Rock Ranch, and outreach ministries that make up the WinShape Foundation, an organization created by his parents in 1984.
A Renaissance Man
At home, Cathy is first and foremost a family man. He and his wife Rhonda live on a farm south of Atlanta, where they regularly host gatherings with their two sons, Andrew and Ross and enjoy time with their three grandchildren. There Cathy spreads his time developing a myriad of interests. “Believe it or not, Chick-fil-A does not define me,” he says. “It's a huge part of my life, but there are a lot of other meaningful things that make up who I am.”
A musician known to pull out his trumpet inside and out of the office, Cathy also enjoys the quieter hobby of gardening and landscaping. He’s a former competitive wrestler and lifelong athlete who’s completed multiple marathons. A member of the “Moo Cow Bikers,” he hits the open roads on his motorcycle with friends, and he is also known to take to the skies piloting small jets. On Sundays he teaches Bible study to high schoolers.