S. Truett Cathy*

Class of 1989

  • Founder, Chairman & CEO Chick-fil-A, Inc.

The difference between success and failure is often about five percent more effort.

The sixth of seven children, Truett Cathy was born in 1921 in Eatonton, Georgia, to a close-knit but impoverished family. His father was a real estate and insurance salesman, and his mother took in boarders. "My father was caught in the Great Depression and never seemed to recover, so my mother became our leader," Cathy said. "She was a hardworking woman with great spiritual depth."

Cathy recalled having boarders in his home from the time he was four. His mother was a wonderful cook, but the children had to wait their turn to eat. The boarders were always served first at mealtime, and the Cathy children got what was left over. At age eight, Cathy was selling soft drinks in his front yard. At age 12, he got a paper route, which he carried faithfully for seven years.

After high school, Cathy served in the U.S. Army. When his tour of duty ended, he took the first step toward his longtime dream of owning a business. He sold his car and pooled his resources with his brother, Ben. They were able to scrape together $4,000. Cathy borrowed another $6,600, and he and his brother acquired a piece of land near Atlanta's new Ford assembly plant. They built a small restaurant that included 10 stools at the counter and four tables and chairs. Fittingly, they named it the Dwarf Grill.

With everything they owned invested in their restaurant, the brothers worked long and hard to make a success of what they later called the Dwarf House restaurant. Tragedy struck, however, when Ben Cathy died in a plane crash with another brother and two friends. Cathy was left to carry on alone. In 1951, he opened a second Dwarf House and worked even harder than before. "With two restaurants, if I wasn't having problems in one, I was having problems in the other," he said.

After two decades in the restaurant business, Cathy opened the first Chick-fil-A restaurant, featuring his chicken sandwich that had been popular with Dwarf House customers. The new restaurant was located in an Atlanta shopping mall, which was a new concept at the time. Soon Chick-fil-A restaurants were placed in shopping malls throughout the South and West. Chick-fil-A quickly became one of the nation's largest family-owned companies.

A devout Southern Baptist, Cathy taught Sunday school for more than 50 years. Because of his religious beliefs, he closed his stores on Sundays so that his employees could attend church and be with their families.

In 1996, he won the Georgia Freedom Award from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. In 1997, the Harvard Business School Club of Atlanta gave him its Business Statesman of the Year Award. Upon receiving the Horatio Alger Association Award in 1989, Cathy said, "The work the Association does to promote the educational goals of young people at risk is something I believe in and I'm honored to be a part of it."

Cathy said the essential ingredient for success is hard work and commitment. "The difference between success and failure is often about five percent more effort," he said. "But we start to see miracles take place when we truly commit ourselves."