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Dan Cathy, president and chief operating officer of Chick-fil-A, shared stories about his family, his faith and his thoughts on leadership at the Terry Third Thursday speaker series on Oct. 17.

Speaking to a packed house at the Terry College’s Executive Education Center, Cathy attributed the success of his 1,600-restaurant chain to strong fundamentals and smart planning.

Video and audio from the event are available online. 

“The future of retailing is beyond just the product and the price. It has to have a bolted-on emotional connection to the consumer,” he said. “We’re finding that retailers now are building experiences into their relations with the customers. We think that’s where retail is headed. We’re putting a lot of thoughts and resources behind this idea of orchestrating, designing, listening to the music, writing the score, rehearsing and so forth, to create the experience we want people to have when they come in.

“Right now we’re about to do a redo on coffee. It’s no longer enough to have a coffee that’s got quality and price… now the consumer wants a coffee with a cause,” Cathy added. “They want to know about the rain forest, they want to know who’s picking those beans and how they’re being treated. They want to know about fertilizer and pesticides and on and on. It’s a pretty big changeup in the way we’re thinking about our business. The storytelling that will endear customers to us requires us to think very differently.”

Cathy, who is renowned for spending the majority of his time traveling to grand-opening ceremonies for new Chick-fil-A restaurants and visiting restaurant operators and employees, also spoke about identifying and nurturing young talent at his company.

“Leadership development at Chick-fil-A is a big, big deal. You know us because of waffle fries, chicken sandwiches, fresh-squeezed lemonade and so forth. But what you don’t know is that behind that counter and in that kitchen we’ve got a big leadership development machine that’s going on. We’re growing and developing talent for our business. If we don’t grow the talent internally, they’re simply not going to have the skillset, the aptitude, the heart and the passion that we want them to have toward our customers. And it takes years to get people there. If you think it’s easy to get 60,000 people to say, ‘My pleasure’ then check out our competition.”

Terry Third Thursday is a breakfast speaker series for the Atlanta business community. This series features influential speakers, as well as special guests from the University of Georgia, who bring local and global perspectives on business and innovation.

The series is sponsored by Terry College’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations.