Guest Post

Chick-fil-A on doing unto others

CEO Dan Cathy of the
Chick-fil-A company has a new
service model
: the Sermon on the Mount.

"Here's the deal," Cathy
announced recently at the second annual Imagination Summit in California:

of us were created in God's image. Because we are created in God's image -
[which] is to be treated with honor, dignity, and respect - we desperately in
our deepest part of who we are...desire to be treated respectfully... And so any
business person that has that insight retools their whole service experience
around honor, dignity and respect...and will [have] people tweeting,
facebooking...and you can have a cult brand.

Despite the recession,
Chick-fil-A has reported double-digit sales increases in the last four years.
According to Cathy, the company's business strategy is predicated not on
maximizing end profits but on a desire to glorify God by being good stewards of
their customers. Whatever else it is, this religious take on business isn't just a hindsight application of the
prosperity gospel--for years, Chick-fil-A has been the only national fast-food
chain that observes the sabbath.

Still, the faith rhetoric smacks
of utilitarianism. "You don't have to be a Christian to work at Chick-fil-A," said company founder
S. Truett Cathy (Dan's father) in 2007. "But we ask you to base your business
on biblical principles because they work."

In 2002, Dan Cathy admitted that
the never-on-Sunday policy, which was implemented back when his dad was also running
the Dwarf House diner in Atlanta, soon became "the single best business
decision [my father] ever made."

Describing the company's
policies in terms of the family's Christian faith sounds like savvy business.
But S. Truett Cathy grew up in America's first public-housing project, and he used
to work as the (24-hour) Dwarf House's only cook. You can see why he might
place a premium on treating people with dignity. By staying closed Sundays and
giving everybody the day off, Chick-fil-A franchises miss out on an estimated $500
of revenue annually.

The company's management
employees receive impressive
, including access to extensive training and development programs.
Headquarters even invites
any employee
interested in franchise ownership to visit and learn about the
company. Employee turnover rate is only 3 percent among
staff and unit operators.

These are impressive facts,
but they might not be enough to earn Chick-fil-A top marks on labor issues. And
earlier this year, a franchise operator's sponsorship of a marriage seminar led
to accusations
that the company is antigay. (Dan Cathy released a video statement on the matter.) Ethical-food
advocates might argue that Chick-fil-A's carbon footprint, animal treatment and
nutritional profile make it hard to argue that the company does well by either the
environment or human beings.

But Chick-fil-A is ahead of
its competitors. Last month, Environmental
issued a report lauding the company for piloting
green building techniques
. And the chain's advertising tactics are commendable:
it scores points by amusing its viewers but not by defacing the competition. On
the whole, I'd say Chick-fil-A is doing a pretty good job.

Lisa Landoe

Lisa Landoe is online editorial intern at the Century and a graduate student at the Divinity School at the University of Chicago.

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