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Leadership Institute Columbus State University The Forum

Dan T. Cathy

Dan Cathy

As president 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 quick-service 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.

Since 2001, Dan has served as the president and chief operating officer of the 1,400-plus unit chain, but he also has personally challenged himself with upholding Chick-fil-A's efforts to provide genuine, heartfelt hospitality, and ensuring that customers chain wide have an exceptional dining experience when visiting a Chick-fil-A restaurant. In his quest to provide customers with "second-mile" service (exceeding even the highest expectations of a typical fast-food restaurant), Dan has defined a special role for himself – humbly saying, "I work in customer service."

Rather than leading from his corporate office in Atlanta, Dan chooses to spend the majority of his time traveling to the chain's growing family of restaurants and interacting with Chick-fil-A's committed team of restaurant Operators and team members. His actions stem from a belief that working in the field provides a clearer understanding of the ever-evolving wants and needs of Chick-fil-A customers, and leading from the front line also enables him to personally convey his servant spirit to the chain's 50,000-plus employees.

The majority of his travels include participating in grand-opening ceremonies for new Chick-fil-A restaurants. In yet another example of how he keeps in tune with customers and employees, Dan attended numerous restaurant openings last year, spending the night in restaurant parking lots along with hundreds of customers who were vying for a chance to win free Chick-fil-A for a year as part of a special customer-focused promotion the chain conducts in conjunction with new restaurant openings. Reflecting on these experiences, Dan notes, "I'm having the most fun I have ever had at Chick-fil-A."

Six major marketplace awards recently have affirmed the commitment and performance of Chick-fil-A Operators and team members. In early 2008 BusinessWeek and J.D. Power and Associates named Chick-fil-A among the top 25 "Customer Service Champs." Chick-fil-A ranked 22nd overall, and was one of only two restaurant concepts listed. In 2007 Chick-fil-A received Restaurant & Institutions magazine's "Choice in Chains" award for the 13th time in 14 years. That same year, Chick-fil-A was recognized as first in overall service in a survey jointly conducted by Zagat and NBC's "Today Show;" as well as received first-place ranking for food accuracy, menu board appearance and "employee smiles" as part of QSR Magazine's "Best Drive-Thru in America" study. In 2004, Chick-fil-A was honored with Fast Company magazine's inaugural "Customer First" award; and was the highest rated quick-service chain in the South in J.D. Power and Associate's Customer Satisfaction survey.

Dan's nearly lifelong career at Chick-fil-A began at age nine as he sang songs for customers and did radio commercials for the chain's original "Dwarf House" restaurant in Hapeville, Ga.

After receiving his Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Georgia Southern University, Dan returned to Chick-fil-A where he served as director of operations - opening more than 50 new Chick-fil-A restaurants throughout the country.

As Chick-fil-A continued to grow, so did Dan's responsibilities with the company. He has served as senior director of operations, vice president of operations and executive vice president prior to being named president and chief operating officer.

As dedicated to Chick-fil-A as he is, Dan also finds time to give generously of his time and efforts in the community. Following is just a partial list of his awards, affiliations and associations:

  • Member, Board of Trustees, Berry College
  • Member, Board of Advisors, Berry College's Campbell School of Business
  • Member, Board of Councilors of The Carter Center
  • Member, Board of Councilors of The Carter Center
  • Member, Foundation of Gordon College
  • Member, Board of Advisors, Eagle Ranch
  • Member of the International Society of Business Fellows
  • Member, Board of Atlanta Metro Chamber of Commerce
  • Recipient of the Buckhead Rotary Humanitarian Award – 2002
  • Inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame – 2003
  • Honorary Doctorate Degree from the State University of West Georgia
  • Honorary Doctorate of Humanities Degree from Anderson College - 2005

And in his "spare" time, Dan has completed the owner/management course at Harvard Business School, earned his pilot's license (and is in fact an instrument-rated commercial pilot), and has run in and completed numerous marathons in Atlanta, Orlando, Los Angeles, Boston and New York. Additionally, Dan is a passionate trumpet player and an avid motorcyclist.

A native of Jonesboro, Georgia, Dan has been married to the former Rhonda Palmer (whom he met while in the 1st grade at age 6) for more than 35 years, and has two sons, Andrew and Ross.

His personal passion is to see the fulfillment of the Chick-fil-A Corporate Purpose: "To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A."