Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 01/18/23

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Trudy Cathy White says she’s an heir to her parents’ values. S. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A (which, despite disdain from some in the activist class, for eight straight years has topped the American Customer Satisfaction Index as the nation’s #1 fast-food restaurant), and his wife of 65 years Jeannette left what is a multi-billion dollar business legacy to their children – Dan, Don (aka Bubba) and Trudy. The couple passed away in 2014 (at age 93) and 2015 (at age 92) respectively. All three of their offspring went on to work in the family business – Dan and Don as current top executives. For her part, Trudy, who along with her husband John, has also focused much of her attention on mission work, has held various roles within the company over the years, including that of a restaurant operator when she was just 19 years old and her ongoing role as a brand ambassador.

I spoke with Trudy in November about her new book, A Legacy that Lasts: Preserving and Transferring You Values (Simon & Schuster),that was released yesterday (1/17). In our conversation – and in her book – she says that the most enduring and valuable legacy left to her and her siblings, while reflected in the family business, went far beyond business.

JWK: What inspired you to write this book?
Trudy Cathy White: My dad died at the age of 93 in 2014 and just 10 months later my mother passed away at the age of 92 in 2015. They had been married for almost 66 years and lived in their house for 57 years which is a long time to live in one house, right? They didn’t take anything with them when they passed away, of course. I was living close to their home and, being the only daughter in the family, was kinda the designated one to go through the house and clean through their things. Some things I’d find would make me laugh, some things I’d find would make me cry but, when I had the house all back in order again, what I realized was the most valuable that my parents left was their legacy – and the legacy that they left was the life they had lived. It got me thinking about wanting to write this book just to tell people about the legacy my husband John and I are currently living but also to challenge anyone who picks up this book to take the time to…pause to determine what really matters in life so that they would live their life in such a way that it would influence others way beyond their (own) life. I (wanted the book to present) a personal and practical way to help identify how to preserve and transfer your own values.    
JWK: How did your parents do that for you?
TCW: I don’t think my parents ever spoke about their values but they lived out their values in such a way that they were easy to identify. I think the number-one value that I picked up from my parents was their Christian faith. They walked with the Lord. They certainly read His Word, they believed in God’s promises and they always wanted to honor the Lord with their lives. So, that was a big value and the way they really transferred that was simply by living it out before me. You know, if you’ve been around children you realize very quickly that they don’t often times listen to what you say but they’ll certainly almost always will be watching what you’re doing. Things are caught more than taught. So, I recognized (the) important (of) my parents’ faith. I chose to embrace that faith as my own faith when I was about seven-and-a-half years old and to walk with the Lord.
Something else that I noticed in my parents was just the spirit of generosity. My parents loved to be generous with their time. They loved to be generous with what they had. They were generous with their talents and their abilities. Watching them steward well what God had given them really spilled over to me and to my own life. When I was a teenager, my dad used to tell me “Now, Trudy, if you’ll help other people get what they want out of life, you will eventually get what you want in life.” I think my mom and dad were trying to help me to (understand) that, you know, “It’s not about you, Trudy. It’s about other people. Learn to be generous with who you are and what you have. You’ll get the reward…and it will be very fulfilling.” So, the biggest way my parents transferred values was how they lived them out before me. 

JWK: One policy your father is famous for is his decision to close Chick-fil-A restaurants on Sunday – a policy that exists to this day. Is that an example of how he extended his faith values into his business?

TCW: Most definitely. My dad always said that there is no conflict between biblical principles and good business practices. In fact, he always felt like they kinda go hand in hand. So, as we have grown this business of Chick-fil-A over the years, we’ve recognized the fact that our desire is to honor Him in it and one of those ways is closing our store on Sunday.

It’s interesting that you ask about that because I was just going back and reading my dad’s very first book and he tells a story about opening his first restaurant when he was 25 years old. He was single. It was 1946. He was open 24 hours a day. It was a little diner restaurant that he opened up. At the end of six days – being open Monday through Saturday – he sat down with his brother who he was partners with and they were just exhausted. Between the two of them they had worked long, long shifts and they said “Tomorrow’s Sunday. Let’s just close our doors.” My dad said it wasn’t so much a spiritual decision. There were just physically too tired to open the restaurant on Sunday but, as time went on, they realized that it was a great way honor the Lord and one of His Commandments says that Sunday is to be our sabbath, our holy day. So, yeah, we never had any of our stores open on Sunday and none of our team members seem to complain about that at all.

JWK: I’ll get back to your book in a moment but, just out of curiosity, I have to ask what was it like having free Chick-fil-A while you were growing up?
TCW: (laughs) Well, that’s a good question. It might surprise you but we are full-paying customers. Whenever I eat at Chick-fil-A I have a mobile app just like everybody else does and I pay full price for everything that I eat in any of the restaurants. My dad brought us up that way. He said “We want people to treat us just like we’re regular customers.” Of course, occasionally, we’d be in a Chick-fil-A store and people would recognize us and offer us (free) food but I didn’t get free food growing up. My parents paid for it until I got old enough to pay for it myself.

JWK: So, in your book you talk family values your parents passed down to you and the values that you yourself are passing down to your children. Want to talk about those?
TCW: Yeah, the values that John and I have established for ourselves are five (that) we kind of (came to) looking back at our lives. When we were married for about 35 years we began to think “Hmm, what are the things that have been most important to us?” and these are the five we discovered.

Our faith is a critical value for us. It becomes a filter for everything, the decisions that we make.

The second would be our family. We value time with our family. We prioritize our calendar so that we have time for family. We have four children that are all grown and we have 16 grandchildren and one on the way. So, have lots of children to be able to invest in. Family is a value for us.

Integrity is so important. We believe it’s important that you do what you say you’re gonna do and live a life of integrity. It allows us to have an influence on people around us.

The fourth value for us is the value of being generous which I’ve already spoken to. It’s important that we are generous with our time, our talents and our resources.

And then the last would be gratitude. A value for us that is so important is that we’re grateful for what we have. We believe we’ve been blessed to be a blessing to other people and that, irregardless of the circumstances around us, we can always have a heart that is grateful…We’ve developed these values – which are our values as a couple having now been married for 45 years.

Our children are young adults. They’re raising their own children. Some years ago we began to challenge our own children to identify their values – not just to adopt mom and dad’s values but what are their own values? What do they see to be very important in life? We asked our children three things. We asked them what matters to you? What values govern how you live your life? And what values do other people actually see in your life? We wanted to help our young adults to start now thinking about what’s important in their life so that they can live intentionally (and) make decisions that actually allow them to live out those values. We’re super proud of our children. They have taken that and run with it. In my book I actually give you practical exercises (to help) you kinda discern what’s important to you and then how you can put those (values) into practice.

JWK: Chick-fil-A has been the subject of controversy over the years with some groups reaching back several years to your father’s support of organizations like the Family Research Council that opposed gay marriage. That goes back a long way so I won’t ask you weigh in on that but do you find it comforting that customers continue to give Chick-fil-A top scores on customer satisfaction surveys? To me there seems to be a bit of disconnect there that, as the activist class goes after the chain, the general public, including Gen Zers, continue to name it as their favorite restaurant chain.

TCW: We’re so grateful for that. It’s great to hear those young people are being raised on Chick-fil-A. We like that, of course. We’re closed on Sunday (so) we expect them to eat twice as much on Monday!

John, when I was 19 years old, I had the opportunity to be a Chick-fil-A operator myself. I had just finished my freshman year at college. I was home for the summer and in a conversation with my dad. He was looking for an operator to open our second Chick-fil-A restaurant in Birmingham. This was back in the seventies. I raised my hand and I told my dad I would be that operator for him if he wanted me to be. I was able to go through training and opened up that Chick-fil-A store there but I only had it for a year because my dad said “I’ll let you run it for a year and then I want you to turn it back into the company” because he wanted me to go back to college.
There were a lot of things I learned in that one year of business – leadership development, of course; personal relationships; how to hire and how to develop people around me. It was a lot to learn – I was a 19 year old – but one takeaway I had that my dad helped me understand (was that) you can’t please everybody all the time. I think we all understand that we won’t always have everybody on our side. We may have a few people that are against us on some things but that’s just not where we focus. We just focus on trying to do our best to do what we do with excellence and to fulfill the purpose of why we’re in business. The only reason we open our stores every day is for this purpose and that is to glorify God, (to be) a faithful steward of all that has been entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A. So, that’s how we approach that and we love it.

JWK: What’s next for Chick-fil-A, expansion wise? I know you have very successfully entered the New York market.
TCW: That’s right. Some people would says that’s what (going) international feels like…Recently I was in Manhattan for our dedication dinner of our Chick-fil-A store there. Every time we open a restaurant we carve out an evening before the official opening just to thank the Lord for the restaurant. We strongly believe that everything we have comes from the hands of God. That includes the business that we have, our cash registers, our food. Everything is a blessing from the Lord. So, we take minute in these restaurants before we open them just to challenge the team members to realize what we want to do while we’re here in this business. We want to take care of our customers; We want to serve quality food because we believe we honor the Lord through our excellence. So, we’re all across the country. We are in Canada. We are expanding internationally as well over the course of the next few years and are happy to offer Chick-fil-A to the world to be able to enjoy!

JWK: I will tell you that my wife and I, when we hit the food court at a mall, tend to hone in on and look for the Chick-fil-A. It’s delicious!
TCW: Great! Well, we appreciate that so very much – you along with so many loyal fans of our business. We’re just so, so grateful.
JWK: Finally, what is your relationship like with your employees? Do they appreciate the values that you espouse?

TCW: Well, they’re very much aware of the reason why we’re in business. We make that very clear to them. They seem to embrace that. Hopefully, in your experience at Chick-fil-A stores, you are well taken care of by friendly team members that want to be there at work…When people say “Thank you” we train them and teach them to say “My pleasure.” Often times young people don’t quite understand that. Maybe they don’t realize that it is their pleasure to be able to serve other people. We feel like if they say it enough with their head eventually it will get down into their heart and they’ll realize what a joy it is to be able to serve others. That is a part of what we’re trying to do – to steward what God has given us and to be good servants to other people. It’s a real joy to take care of people like yourself, your wife and your family who come in and eat with us.

So, any time we can help these young people know that, I think they appreciate it. One, they get the day off on Sunday. That’s a given. They’re not gonna have to work on Sunday. We’ve found some of those quality young people that we hire are some of our most active young people. They’re very involved with school. They’re maybe even in lots of sports. So, we try to allow a lot of flexibility so we can hire these quality young people that want to be in front of people. We know that these young people probably aren’t going to make a career at a service restaurant but, when we bring them on with us, we really want to develop them to be leaders, to know how to interact with other people and to take care of the customers that are hard and the customers that are pleasant as well. So, it’s a win-win situation all the way around.

John W. Kennedy is a writer, producer and media development consultant specializing in television and movie projects that uphold positive timeless values, including trust in God.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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