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Religious CEOs: Chick-fil-A Founder, S. Truett Cathy

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The creator of this fast food chain believes his chicken sandwich business was "a gift from the Lord."

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S. Truett Cathy puts his money where his faith is. The 89-year-old founder and chairman of Chick-fil-A, the second largest chicken-based fast-food chain in the United States, has mandated that every Sunday, all of his restaurants be closed to allow staff time to worship. Over the course of a year, the Sunday rule is estimated to cost the business about $500 million in lost income. Yet the company, credited with inventing the first fast-food chicken sandwich, is still very successful, with $2.96 billion in system-wide sales (the reported figure for 2008) and 1,450 restaurants.

Religion is at the key of the family-operated business, says Cathy, whose son Dan is the chief operating officer and whose other son, Bubba, is a vice president. According to the family patriarch, "Our decision to close on Sundays was our way of honoring God and directing our attention to things more important than our business." The company's stance on religion is so serious that part of its mission statement states: The purpose of Chick-fil-A is 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. Cathy has also told Forbes magazine, "The Lord has never spoken to me, but I feel Chick-fil-A has been his gift."

According to the company's website, closing on Sunday sends two messages: It values their employee's spirituality and places a high level of importance on its employees.

To Cathy it's much more than a business. Prospective employees are screened on loyalty, wholesome values, and willingness to buy into the Christian credo. People who apply for an operator license are asked to disclose marital status, number of dependents, and involvement in community, civic, social, church, and/or professional organizations. According to the Forbes story, even though Cathy says that employees don't have to be Christian to work at Chick-fil-A, they do have to base their work on biblical principles.

Religion has always been part of Cathy's life. He's a member of the First Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Georgia, and also has taught Sunday school for more than 50 years. Cathy grew up in Eatonton, Georgia. He opened the Dwarf Grill (which later became the Dwarf House) in 1945 and started the chain in 1967 with a single store in Atlanta's Greenbriar Mall. Since the restaurant opened, it has posted 41 consecutive annual sales increases.

The company's religious beliefs permeated into pop culture when Chick-fil-A received prime product placement in the 2008 Christian-themed film Fireproof. In one scene the main character, working to save his troubled marriage, offers his wife a bowl of soothing Chick-fil-A chicken noodle soup.

When Cathy heard about the movie and its message he immediately began connecting the movie's writers (two brothers who worked at the chain as teenagers) with marriage ministry nonprofits around the country to help with the film's marketing efforts.

The religious beliefs became a point of contention when a Houston Muslim employee sued the company in 2002, alleging that he was fired for his religious beliefs. The case was settled out of court.

While some may debate its religious ties, it's hard to debate the success of the chain which, according to the company, has sold more than 247 million Chick-fil-A chicken sandwiches -- enough to create an unbroken trail from Atlanta to Seattle almost six times.

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