Lessons from a Chicken Sandwich Entrepreneur

HoTruett Cathyw could a chicken breast sandwich become a product that catapulted a company into 47 years of consecutive annual increases in sales generating $5.5 billion in revenue?

It is a great product…but after all, it’s still just a chicken sandwich!

The secret is in the rest of the story and the philosophy of its founder, Truett Cathy.  The Chick-fil-A founder, S. Truett Cathy died at the age of 93. In the September 14, 2014 Wall Street Journal article, Mr. Muhtar Kent, Chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola Co, shares a story titled “Truett Cathy’s Lessons on Life and Business”.  This list is adapted from the article:

1.  Despite having only a high-school education, Mr. Truett believed in himself.  He was an irrepressible optimist and he was convinced that he could make something of himself.  As entrepreneurs, so many times, our biggest obstacle is our own disbelief in what we can truly accomplish given the opportunity. The quote by Henry Ford “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right” is a fitting reminder that we must first overcome the biggest obstacle – our own belief system.

2.   He was a hard worker.  In an age where there are real, but unlikely, expectations of winning the lottery or finding get-rich-quick formulas, the tenet of perseverance and hard work may be foreign to some.  Good old hard work, with a purpose and a strategy, will eventually pay off.  Remember Aesop’s Fable of the Tortoise and the Hare?

3.  He was the motivator of a culture that he wanted to build and insisted on the highest quality products and service.  He was devoted to serving his customers, his employees and young people in the community.  All companies have a corporate culture. It is the sum total of the core values of its employees and leaders. For example, a company culture can be one of excitement and creativity, or one of minimalism and only doing what is required. Your corporate culture is either built on purpose, or by default; nevertheless, all companies will have one.

4.  He was and innovator in his field. All companies must have a culture of innovation if they hope to grow and be viable force long-term. Innovation should be incorporated into the company’s service to its customers, the products the company creates, and in the way the company conducts business.

5.  He was generous. All individuals appreciate generosity because it lets them know they are valued and appreciated.  This is true of employees, customers and managers in any business. Generosity can be given in time, attention, money and assistance. Being generous always has a habit of returning in some way to the giver.

6.  He stayed humble and never took himself too seriously. Pride is the opposite of humility and has a way of creeping up on individuals that have some measure of success. However, pride is simply the erroneous belief that every success you have is the result of your efforts and no one else’s. At its worst, pride makes an individual believe he or she needs no one, which cannot be further from the truth. I recall a quote that goes something like this, “At some point in your career, your success will no longer depend on what you do with you own hands, but rather, what you can do, with, and through the help of others”.   Taking yourself too seriously means you do not allow yourself the latitude to make mistakes and you become too hard on yourself. It is like living life in the rear-view mirror, being preoccupied with what you didn’t do or should have done, rather than looking forward and giving yourself some space to learn and grow.

Although making a chicken breast sandwich is not the same as making a therapeutic or medical device, the underlying principles that help make entrepreneurs successful are common to both. Let’s learn a few lessons from the Chicken Sandwich Entrepreneur!

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