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September 25, 2004
Column #1,204 

                     "Better To Build Boys Than Mend Men"

How does a corporate leader who is also a deeply committed Christian behave differently from other businessmen of nominal faith?

Consider S. Truett Cathy, 83, founder of the Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A restaurant chain. At one level he is quite similar to other businessmen: successful. Since he opened his first restaurant in 1946, more than 1,150 restaurants have opened in 38 states. Sales in 2003 were $1.5 billion, and it is the second largest quick-service chicken restaurant chain in the nation.

Everything else is different. First, all Chick-fil-A's close on Sunday, a big day for business. His son, Dan Cathy, 51, now the firm's President, explained that his father grew up in a fatherless home, which his mother ran as a boarding house. While his sisters laundered sheets, Truett helped his mother cook. He did not mind doing so during the week, but he longed for a divine day of rest on Sunday.

"He decided that if he ever opened a restaurant, he would not ask others to do, what he was unwilling to do. Sunday was a special day for my dad. And it has not hurt business. We demonstrated more sales in six days than competitors who were open seven."

His father asserts, "It's the best business decision I ever made. We realize we could do a large amount of volume that day but it's been to our benefit. I think people go out of their way to eat with us six days a week. I say let them eat somewhere else on Sunday and compare the food and service."

Dan adds, "There are also practical benefits. We feel better on Monday when we have had the opportunity to rest on Sunday. Retail is a high stress business. Pressure is constant. We allow 60-70 Chick-fil-A employees to recover."

Second, Truett Cathy has used his day off to worship at First Baptist Church of Fayetteville, GA and to teach Sunday School to 13-year-old boys for more than 50 years. Nor is he just a Sunday Christian. His WinShape Centre Foundation, which grew from his desire to "shape winners" has given $18 million in scholarships to Chick-fil-A employees.

He has opened 14 WinShape homes for foster children, giving kids who have often been shuttled from one foster home to another - the opportunity to have a "true, permanent home" with up to 12 children and a "mother and father."

Third, the business is designed to have a positive impact on young people's lives.  "Our purpose is to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that He has entrusted to us," says Dan. "We use this business as a front for impacting young people's lives," both employees and customers. The placemats do not feature a monster of the month, but character values.

Another charity focuses on strengthening marriages, such as a conference center that helps couples in crisis.

Finally, Truett Cathy has just written a little book that would make a nice gift for any father called "It's Better to Build Boys Than To Mend Men." As Art Linkletter writes in the Foreword, "Never before in the history of Western civilization has a generation of children been subjected to such an avalanche of vulgarity, violence, drug abuse and sexual promiscuity."

Cathy's answer is simple: "God wants to work through you to change the life of a child. Every child I know who overcame long odds and grew into a responsible adult can point to an adult who stepped into his or her life as a friend, mentor and guide."

He notes that 90 percent of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes plus 71 percent of school dropouts and 85 percent of those in prison. As a father, grandfather of 12 plus 135 foster children he's helped, Chick-fil-A's founder writes wise words of counsel:

"Stop arguing in front of your children."

"Don't consider watching TV with your children to be 'quality time.' You may be in the same room but you are not together. Participate in activities with your children. Play games."

"One of the quickest ways to turn sixteen-year-old children into prodigals is give them their own car."

"It is much easier to hire a good attitude than to change a bad one."

"If our children are to remain pure, we must do three things:

 - "Pray for them."

 - "Model purity."

 - "Talk to them about remaining pure. This is your responsibility as a parent."

Truett Cathy "is one of the extraordinary people of my generation," concludes Art Linkletter.

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