Sunday, September 14, 2014

6 Lessons for Association Executives

Muhtar Kent, chairman and chief executive officer of the Coca-Cola Co, wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal headlined Truett Cathy’s Lessons on Life & Business.


Who was Truett Cathy? He was the Chick-fil-A founder who died last week at the age of 93.

  • “How did Truett do it?” Mr. Kent wrote. “As someone lucky enough to know him, I saw six characteristics that defined the way he approached business, people and the communities he served.
As I read these six characteristics, I envisioned them as pretty good lessons for association volunteers, leaders and association executives.

Here they are:


  • First, Truett believed in himself, despite having only a high-school education. An irrepressible optimist, he was convinced that he could make something of himself. And he did.
  • Second, Truett worked hard. A child of the Great Depression, he saw work as a privilege and made a point of enjoying it. In fact, he didn't hand over the reins to his son Dan entirely until last year. Even on Sundays, when he closed his restaurants to honor God and give his employees a day of rest, Truett stayed busy, teaching Sunday school at First Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ga., for more than 50 years.
  • Third, Truett embodied the culture of service that he wanted to build. He was devoted to serving others, from his customers and employees to young people and others in his community. He understood, like few others, what it meant to be a steward of a great brand. If a brand is a promise, then a great brand is a promise kept. Truett kept his promises.
    • He showed his respect for his customers by insisting on high quality: the quality of the food; the quality of the restaurant experience; the quality of each customer interaction.
  • Fourth, Truett never stopped innovating, beginning with the creation of the Chick-fil-A sandwich itself. If you've never had one, you might ask what's so special about a seasoned boneless chicken breast on a buttered bun, garnished with nothing but a pair of pickle chips. It's still one of a kind, but 53 years ago it was a revelation.
    • Truett's very business model was an innovation. Unlike traditional franchises at the time, Chick-fil-A restaurant operators became partners in the business, and that ownership culture became a strong competitive advantage. Many of the company's corporate employees began their careers working in a Chick-fil-A restaurant.
    • Another innovation was Truett's decision in 1967 to locate the first Chick-fil-A stores inside shopping malls, long before food courts were common. This allowed him to start with a specialized product in a unique location with little competition and lower real-estate costs. The first stand-alone store, in Atlanta, didn't open until 1986.
  • Fifth, Truett was generous. In 1984 he founded the WinShape Foundation, named for its mission to "shape winners." WinShape, among other priorities, provides foster homes for children. About 150 children and young people now live in more than a dozen WinShape homes in three states.
    • College students benefited from Truett's generosity, too. He launched a scholarship program for restaurant team members in 1973, an initiative that has awarded more than $30 million in $1,000 scholarships.
  • Sixth, Truett stayed humble. He never took himself too seriously. When asked what was so smart about creating his chicken sandwich, he would reply, invariably, "Nothing. That's why I was able to do it."

As you think of your association (yourself, you other association executives and your volunteers), which of these characteristics are most important? Which do you need to work to improve?

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