S. Truett Cathy, founder and chairman emeritus of Chick-fil-A, passed away Monday morning at the age of 93.
Cathy is credited with creating the original Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich and pioneering in-mall fast food en route to building one of the largest family-owned companies in the United States.
“Truett Cathy was a true visionary—a remarkably innovative leader who created not only a uniquely delicious chicken sandwich but also an extraordinary way of doing business,” said Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO, The Coca-Cola Company. “For decades, he demonstrated a profound generosity of spirit, always brightening the lives of others with his infectious smile and sense of humor. Even as I’m saddened by his loss, I’m heartened by the knowledge that his towering legacy will live on in all those touched by his life, leadership and heart for children and students. I feel very fortunate to have been able to know and learn from such a man.”
Cathy's connection to Coca-Cola dates back 85 years. As an enterprising eight-year-old in Atlanta, Ga., he bought six-packs of Coca-Cola for 25 cents and then went door to door selling the individual 6.5-oz. glass bottles for a nickel apiece.
“Coca-Cola inspired Truett’s first business," said Martha Lawrence, Cathy's longtime executive administrator. "He used his five-cent profit to help support his family. It was such a success that he set up a drink stand in his front yard, and a lifelong partnership was born."
As a reminder of his humble beginnings and first venture, Truett kept a wooden wagon complete with Coke bottles in his Atlanta office. "The little wagon is still on display today," Lawrence adds, "presenting Coca-Cola as an important part of Chick-fil-A’s heritage."
This spirit of entrepreneurship continued in 1946, when Truett and his brother, Ben, built a tiny diner in the Atlanta suburb of Hapeville, Ga. known as Dwarf Grill (later renamed Dwarf House). It was at the original restaurant that Cathy created the sandwich that became the company's signature item.
Under his leadership, Chick-fil-A posted 47 consecutive years of annual sales increases. Currently, there are more than 1,800 Chick-fil-A restaurants in 40 states and Washington, D.C. The company reached $5 billion in annual sales in 2013.
Cathy's oldest son, Dan, became president of Chick-fil-A in 2001 and chairman and CEO in 2013, and Truett Cathy continued in the role of chairman emeritus until his death.
Cathy was often quoted as saying: "I'd like to be remembered as one who kept my priorities in the right order. We live in a changing world, but we need to be reminded that the important things have not changed. I have always encouraged my restaurant operators and team members to give back to the local community. We should be about more than just selling chicken, we should be a part of our customers' lives and the communities in which we serve."
As an extension of Cathy’s faith and desire to put principles and people ahead of profits, all Chick-fil-A restaurants operate with a "Closed-on-Sunday" policy. Chick-fil-A will remain privately held and closed on Sundays, the company announced.
Vernon Mauldin, national sales director for Coca-Cola Refreshments, has worked with Chick-fil-A since June 2010. "I feel truly blessed and honored to have known and interacted with not only such an icon of American business, but also one of such great heart," Mauldin said. "I can’t tell you how many times I share that I work with Chick-fil-A for The Coca-Cola Company and hear from others about their experience either with Truett directly or from someone they know that he has influenced -- and he did it all in such a humbling manner. His amazing legacy will be that his spirit of generosity is imprinted on all those that work in the Chick-fil-A system, and they will continue to carry that forward to influence so many others in a positive way."
Truett Cathy is survived by his wife of 65 years, Jeannette McNeil Cathy; sons Dan T. and Don "Bubba" Cathy; daughter Trudy Cathy White; 19 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.
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