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How often do you stand by your principles?

Today is October 3 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you stand by your principles?” People who navigate the chaos often rely on a strong set of principles to help guide them along the path. S. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, is one such person. Cathy began tinkering with boneless chicken at his hamburger haven, the Dwarf Grill (now Dwarf House) in Hapeville, Georgia which opened in 1946 largely to serve nearby Ford plant workers. He spent four years devising the ingredients for his famous sandwich, which he began selling in 1961 before the ultimate formula was settled.

After finding a pressure-fryer that could cook the chicken sandwich in the same amount of time it took to cook a fast-food hamburger, Cathy opened the first Chick-fil-A in 1967 at Greenbriar Mall in southwest Atlanta. Noting his belief to remain closed on Sunday so employees could attend church and spend time with their families, the Greenbriar Mall at first was hesitant and informed Cathy that he would have to rethink his position. Cathy stood firm and told the mall management that he would make more in six days than anyone else would in seven. That first Chick-fil-A restaurant, approximately 360 square feet and about the size of a two-car garage, did indeed outperform its competitors. As a result, the principle of being closed on Sundays has been a hallmark of Chick-fil-A ever since.

Chick-fil-A remains a private company and has elevated its position in the fast-food business. In QSR magazine's QSR 50 report for 2018, Chick-fil-A ranked eighth in U.S., after taking in $9 billion. The top three spots were claimed by McDonald's, Starbucks, and Subway, who brought in $37.5 billion, $13.2 billion, and $10.8 billion respectively. Chick-fil-A stands out among its customers when the per-store sales are calculated. As the Houston Chronicle noted Chick-fil-A only operates 2,225 restaurants. That's less than one-sixth as many as the top-three earning restaurants and less than half as many as the rest of the franchises ahead of it.

Chick-fil-A manages to rank so highly—above KFC, Chipotle, and Domino's—because it earns more per store than the other restaurants… by a landslide. In 2017, the average Chick-fil-A unit made around $4.1 million in sales each year. Considering that the total sales for the average McDonald's store is around $2.7 million, Starbucks are just above $945,000, and Subway stores bring in just $416,860, it's clear that Chick-fil-A, which operates one less day per week, is in a league of its own.

There is an adage misattributed to Abraham Lincoln that reads “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.” To further clarify how it stands with those who are right, Chick-fil-A announced in November 2019 its charitable foundation would set aside $9 million for 2020 that will be split between three initiatives: promoting youth education, combating youth homelessness, and fighting hunger. Those funds will be distributed to Junior Achievement USA, Covenant House International, and local food banks in cities where the chain opens new locations.

Additionally, in 2020 the Chick-fil-A foundation will not give any money to charities that take anti-LGBTQ stances. In an interview with real estate publication Bisnow, Chick-fil-A’s president and CEO Tim Tassopoulos made it clear that the company’s new donation strategy is related to a rethinking of its previous policy on donations following protests. “There’s no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are,” Tassopoulos told Bisnow. “There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message.” Principles evolve just as people do. Some principles, like remaining closed on Sunday, are paramount to Chick-fil-A. Other principles, however, like the types of charitable organizations that receive donations, have evolved over time.

Another example of someone who evolved his principles over time is CEO Dan Price. In 2015 Price raised the salary of everyone at his Seattle-based credit card processing company Gravity Payments to at least $70,000 a year. Price slashed his own salary by $1 million to be able to give his employees a pay raise. He was hailed a hero by some and met with predictions of bankruptcy from his critics. By 2021 standing by his principles allowed his company to thrive. Price believes Gravity's returns are up in large part because bigger paychecks have led to fiercely loyal employees. "Our turnover rate was cut in half, so when you have employees staying twice as long, their knowledge of how to help our customers skyrocketed over time and that's really what paid for the raise more so than my pay cut," said Price.

  • How often do you stand by your principles?

  • Are you even aware of what your principles are?

  • Do you have the self-awareness to recognize when the nuance involved with a situation calls for a reflection, and perhaps change, in your principles?