Values-led Leadership at Work

5 Nov 2019 – To the operators of Chick-fil-A, living out the company’s values isn’t just a mantra they tout to continue to hold on to a very profitable license – it’s a way of life. Maybe, just maybe, that’s one of the reasons this American fast-food chain holds pole position among industry peers with about US$4.6 million in sales per restaurant, over 60% more than its closest rival McDonald’s. Company estimates put growth at 20% year-on-year.

You could say the numbers are skewed since they have only 2500 restaurants compared to close to 14,000 McDonald’s in the US alone. But that’s where the facts and figures will intrigue.

Chick-fil-A as a brand has been around for 52 years. Now in the hands of the second generation, this private company is in no hurry to expand. And that’s not for the lack of interested parties. It receives about 20,000 applications a year from potential operators, out of which they grant the franchise license to a mere 80.

David Danisan, the only Malaysian to run a Chick-fil-A restaurant can attest to the rigorous selection process.

“I thought the 9 interviews I had to go through to land a job at Accenture was tough!” remarked the former consultant who migrated to the US.

He waited 2 years with multiple interviews and meetings before he was granted the coveted license. That’s close enough to the average wait time of 18 months for applicants.

Once you become part of the family, though, it’s relatively plain sailing. All it costs is US$10,000 for the license, while a McDonald’s franchise fee can set you back about US$45,000. What’s more, Chick-fil-A will pay for startup costs, too. By contrast, a McDonald’s restaurant can cost between US$1 million and US$2.3 million to set up – all on the franchisee.

The rigourous weeding-out process is necessary to make sure operators can meet the high ethical standards the company demands. For one, franchisees must live out the company’s purpose to “glorify God by being a faithful steward”. They must also agree to shutter on the most profitable day of the week for restauranteurs – Sunday. That’s a practice started by founder Truett Cathy when he set aside the day for his staff to “rest and worship”.

Some observers have described the company as “controversial” for being openly and unapologetically Christian in values and practices – norms that don’t sit well with left-wing activists.

Its recent attempt to enter the UK market met with a backlash from LGBT activists. Their grouse was against the parent company’s contributions to two Christian organizations in the US which, the protestors assert, represent biblical family structures that are antithetical to same-sex unions. This pushback led to the closure of the outlet at the end of its six-month lease.

When a company operates from absolute moral values, it is inevitable that they will fall prey to criticism and opposition to those who prefer the liberal view of self-determination. As recent events have shown, it can even be costly to hold on to biblical values.

But for organisations to last beyond one generation, it cannot stand on values that shift with the changing tides. It cannot even be defined by principles forged by the founder.

Instead only when it is entrenched in values that are from time immemorial – proven, attested, divine – and continues to demonstrate it in its operations, can it ride the ebbs and flows of volatility intact and, in Chick-fil-A’s instance, thriving.

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