1989 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"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, though impoverished family. His father was a real estate and insurance salesman, and his mother took in boarders. "My father was caught in the Depression and never seemed to recover, so my mother became our leader," Cathy says. "She was a hardworking woman with great spiritual depth."
Cathy remembers having boarders in their 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 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. Truett 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 says.
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 southern and western states, introducing the Chick-fil-A® Chicken Sandwich to a great customer base.
Today, more than 45,000 young people are employed by Chick-fil-A restaurants, motivated by the promise of a $1,000 Leadership Scholarship for those who demonstrate community service and leadership abilities, as well as the chance to compete with other Chick-fil-A workers for four-year $16,000 scholarships to Berry College, a private institution in Rome, Georgia.
A devout Southern Baptist, Cathy has taught Sunday school for 44 years. In 1996, he was pleased to receive the Georgia Freedom Award from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. In 1997, he received the Business Statesman of the Year Award from the Harvard Business School Club of Atlanta. Active with the Horatio Alger Association, Cathy says, "The work the Association does to promote the educational goals of young people at risk is something I believe in and am honored to be a part of it."
Cathy says the essential ingredient for success is hard work and commitment. "The difference between success and failure is often about five percent more effort," he says. "But we start to see miracles take place when we truly commit ourselves."