Dan Cathy, chairman and CEO of Chick-fil-A, in the UGA Chapel.
Dan Cathy, chairman and CEO of Chick-fil-A, in the UGA Chapel.

Dan Cathy, chairman and CEO of Chick-fil-A Inc., shared stories about his father’s legacy, the importance of creativity, and how his values guide his work Sept. 29 at a Terry Leadership Speakers Series talk in the Chapel.

“Living a life of integrity means that you’re the same person at work that you are at home, and the same person at home that you are teaching a Sunday school lesson,” he said. “As you succeed in business, there’s a stewardship opportunity that emerges where you can re-invest back into the lives of people.”

Cathy said he inherited many of his values from his father, S. Truett Cathy, who founded Chick-fil-A.

“My father grew up during the Great Depression and it was tough, but he showed that we don’t have to be a victim of our circumstances,” Cathy said. “When he was just a few years old, he would buy a coke for 4 cents then add some ice to it — a little value-added element — and he found that he could peddle it up and down the street for 5 cents and make a profit. Once he tasted making a profit, he never wanted to go back.”

Cathy told stories about how his father invented the chicken sandwich, the origin of the Chick-fil-A name, and how he “took fun seriously.” He also stressed that the values of hard work, generosity and integrity aren’t just for upper management.

“If you want to be generous when you are successful, start today,” he said. “It may scale, but the root of it starts where you are now."

Cathy encouraged students to always keep learning. As a CEO, he had to learn a lot about entrepreneurial thinking because it was a weakness of his.

“Since my dad passed, I’ve become very aware of how important entrepreneurship is to a company. For a long time, I was focused on thinking intra-preneurially, which is focused inside the company, but not always entrepreneurially,” he said. “When a business loses its entrepreneurship, it’s only a matter of time. If you lose that, you lose the very thing that keeps you relevant in business, which is your vision, taking risks and finding sources of capital.”

To demonstrate his commitment, Cathy said he adopted a practice he’d recently seen one of Chick-fil-A’s restaurant operators use with new employees: He added “in training” to his name badge.

“My learning curve is as steep now as it was when I was 25 years old, particularly on the entrepreneurship side,” he said.

Following the talk, Cathy took part in dedicating the S. Truett Cathy Leadership Suite in the Terry College’s new Business Learning Community. The suite houses the college’s Institute for Leadership Advancement, which works with students across campus to develop values-based, impact-driven leaders.

Cathy’s visit was part of the university’s Signature Lecture Series, which highlights campus talks of broad, multidisciplinary interest.