Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

The Secret Sauce: 10 Life Lessons from Chick-fil-A's Founder

  • Trudy Cathy White
  • Updated May 07, 2019
The Secret Sauce: 10 Life Lessons from Chick-fil-A's Founder

Nuggets or strips? Chick-n-Minis or biscuit? Chick-fil-A is beloved for our Original Chicken Sandwich and renowned for being closed on Sunday (the day you always seem to have that waffle fry hankering).

Our “Raving Fan” base has exploded in recent years—especially, when it comes to our legendary Chick-fil-A Sauce.

But the “secret sauce” behind the success of my father, Truett Cathy, stems from more than a BBQ, honey mustard, and mayo mixture. Dad and Mom imparted life lessons with their words, but most of what I “caught” wasn’t explicitly “taught.” My parent’s actions spoke far louder—impacting my life far greater—than words ever could.

Here are 10 life lessons (other than the recipe for Chick-fil-A Sauce) that Truett Cathy taught me, his daughter.

Photo Credit: GettyImages/bhofack2

  • 1. Know your purpose.

    1. Know your purpose.

    In the 1980s, the economy was in a recession, and Chick-fil-A wasn’t doing much better. Dad met with the executive team to determine how—or even if—the company would continue to operate. During this meeting, a foundational key to Chick-fil-A’s success was established—our corporate purpose:

    To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.

    Our company is not in business to sell the most chicken or operate the most restaurants; it’s to glorify God and have a positive impact on people.

    With a renewed purpose, Chick-fil-A rallied and flourished.

    Likewise, knowing the “why” behind the “what” you do in life provides a gauge by which to evaluate your actions, commitments, use of time, etc. Clarity of purpose brings clarity of priorities.

    Photo Credit: pexels

  • 2. Glorify God.

    2. Glorify God.

    Growing up, when my brothers or I left the house, my mother, Jeannette, would often say, “Remember who you are and Whose you are.” These words became my life mantra.

    Operating a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Birmingham, AL, at the age of 19; my husband, John, and I having our first child; stepping into international missions; facing disease, death, and aging—through it all, I’ve clung tightly to my mother’s reminder.

    Who are you? This question may spark thoughts of what you do or how others label you. But the true answer lies in knowing Whose you are and why He created you. Ultimately, you were created to bring glory to God through your life.

    Photo Credit: Thinkstock/kevron2001

  • 3. Steward faithfully.

    3. Steward faithfully.

    No matter how Chick-fil-A sales were doing, my parents made it a priority early in marriage to steward well what the Lord had given them. Quite vividly, I remember mom pulling out her checkbook in the car each Sunday to prepare their tithe before we had even rolled into the church parking lot!

    My parents taught children’s Sunday school for decades, had people over to our home more often than not, and were always eager to lend a helping hand. Their generosity in all areas of life inspired my husband, John, and I to make generosity a primary value in our own family.

    You may feel you don’t have much to give. We often limit generosity to financial resources; but the truth is, we’ve all been given time, talent, resources, and influence. Manage what’s in your hand; give away as much as you can.

    Photo Credit: GettyImages/photosbyhope

  • 4. Recognize what’s been entrusted to you.

    4. Recognize what’s been entrusted to you.

    My parents were frugal, yet incredibly generous people. When I was 18, they bought my first car and had a metal plaque added to the dashboard inscribed with my life verse: “For with God nothing will be impossible” Luke 1:37.

    Though my parents physically bought the car, they reminded me that God provided the resources to do so, and, ultimately, the car belonged to Him.

    Like any 18-year-old with a new car, I encountered difficult choices as a young adult. The metal plaque often caught my eye in moments of temptation, reminding me of the car’s true owner: my heavenly Father.

    Similarly, your life belongs to the Creator. He provides each breath that sustains life here on earth. How we choose to manage what has been entrusted to us—our time, talent, and treasure (resources)—reveals our true priorities.

    Photo Credit: GettyImages/ipopba

  • 5. Have a positive influence.

    5. Have a positive influence.

    In a culture where influence is measured in “likes” and “followers,” we often forget real influence is not what we say but what we do.

    My father authored seven books, one of which he entitled, It’s Better to Build Boys than Mend Men. Dad and Mom lived out this principle each week teaching middle school children on Sunday for 70 combined years. They were intentional with their time to build-up and encourage those around them through positivity.

    “How do you know if someone needs encouragement?” my dad would often ask. His response: “If they’re breathing.”

    We often think of legacy and impact as a future achievement, but the life you live today is the legacy you will leave. We must OWN our legacy NOW.

    Photo Credit: Thinkstock

  • 6. Focus on what's important.

    6. Focus on what's important.

    Dad was notorious for finding deals he couldn’t pass up—vintage cars, yard furniture, animals, you name it. What he and mother had accumulated in their modest home of over 50 years was astounding.

    For all my father’s pursuit of a good deal, we learned from his example that the most important things in life can’t be bought with dollars and cents. Ideals such as hope, peace, and joy are not found in present circumstances, physical possessions, or even those we love. True contentment is found only in the One who planted those desires in our heart—Jesus.

    Photo Credit: GettyImages/SimonLehmann

  • 7. Prioritize your family.

    7. Prioritize your family.

    Since early Dwarf House days, my father held a strong conviction to close his restaurants on Sunday. People assume this was solely out of religious obligation, but Dad also realized it was vital to the well-being of his employees. Remaining closed on Sunday attracted quality team members to work in the restaurants and encouraged people to spend time with their families.

    Family was of utmost significance to both my parents and is now one of my primary values. No matter how busy a season may become, John and I give priority to our four children and 15 grandchildren. We plan set-apart time as a family and with each individual member to build intentional relationships with lasting memories.

    How do your actions communicate what you value to your family?

    Photo Credit: Thinkstock/shironosov

  • 8. Have Fun!

    8. Have Fun!

    Those closest to my dad knew life with Truett came with a fair amount of unpredictability. His assistants throughout the years learned never to assume what Dad would do from day to day. He loved to ride motorcycles, collect vintage cars, interact with children, and chase after wild pursuits!

    Dad was an extremely hard worker but valued the art of having fun. He even had t-shirts made with the slogan, “It’s fun to work at Chick-fil-A!”

    Life is full of responsibilities, challenges, and unexpected trials—this is a given. Even Jesus reminds us that, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Yet, we’ve been given much in this life for our enjoyment! Dad often told others, “If you’re not enjoying your work, you must be doing something wrong.”

    Photo Credit: Thinkstock/Youngoldman

  • 9. Practice Perseverance

    9. Practice Perseverance

    My parents faced mountains of difficulty from an early age. Both were from poor families, Mother particularly as she was raised in a single-parent home.

    Dad never excelled in school and had a speech impediment that prevented him from properly saying his own name. He and his siblings worked from a young age to pay family bills, so it was only natural that Dad and his brother, Ben, would open the Dwarf House together years later.

    But difficulties arose amid apparent success. Ben and their brother, Horace, died in a tragic plane accident followed by the total loss of Dad’s second Dwarf House location to a fire.

    My dad, however, persevered. Almost two decades after the red Dwarf House door opened, the original chicken sandwich was created.

    Even then, success was not handed to my parents. It’s easy to look at the achievements of others and compare our valley to their mountaintop. Yet, our mountains do not look the same. Perseverance is found in the climb. 

    Photo Credit: GettyImages/nastco

  • 10. Strive for excellence.

    10. Strive for excellence.

    It’s much easier to do a job right the first time than redo a task because you failed to do your best from the start. Dad’s first book, It’s Easier to Succeed than Fail, is based on this principle of excellence. He operated his restaurants on this core belief, and it’s a quality that lives on at Chick-fil-A restaurants today.

    Excellence honors God. We were created in His likeness with gifts and abilities to bring glory to Him through the three I’s: instruction, influence, and image.

    Instruction is what you say; influence is what you do; image is who you are.

    Trudy Cathy White is a native Georgian and the only daughter of Jeannette and S. Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, Inc. Trudy has held various roles within Chick-fil-A, including that of a restaurant operator, and she and her husband, John, served as missionaries in Brazil before cofounding Lifeshape and Impact 360 Institute. She is a dedicated wife, mother of four, grandmother of 15, speaker, and author of Climb Every Mountain, released February 12, 2019. Follow along with Trudy at TrudyCathyWhite.com or @trudycathywhite on Facebook and Instagram.

    Photo Credit: Unsplash/Japheth-Mast