Successful business leaders often inspire other entrepreneurs. Such is the case for Chris Graeve, founder, CEO, and CIO of RE-build Properties and Christopher Robin Real Estate. He admires Dan Cathy, CEO of the popular Chick-fil-A restaurant chain. Cathy heads the family business founded by his father, S. Truett Cathy. He describes himself as a servant-leader guided by Biblical principles who strives to be generous in all actions.
As the quintessential hands-on leader, Cathy travels frequently among Chick-fil-A locations. The restaurant chain is the third-largest U.S. restaurant chain by sales and operates over 2,300 restaurants in 47 states. Cathy regularly appears behind counters while touring restaurants. He has even camped out with eager customers awaiting the opening of new locations.
A Company Caring for All Parties
Cathy believes that Biblical principles lead to exceptional customer service. A bronze plaque at the company’s corporate headquarters cites faithful stewardship as the path to the glorification of God. This message urges everyone to create a positive experience for all parties involved with Chick-fil-A, including franchise operators, employees, and customers.
Cathy promotes Biblical principles within the company because he believes that they truly work. He immerses himself in service to others to improve his understanding of customer needs. He is known to refill beverages or carry food to tables for families with young children.
His upbringing within the family business resulted in the generous leader that Cathy is today. His youth included jobs like scraping chewing gum off restaurant tables with a butter knife.
The policies at his company ask all employees to pursue this humble level of dedication to customers. Policies reference Matthew 5:41 in which Jesus urges his followers to go two miles if forced to travel one mile. Chick-fil-A calls this “second-mile service,” and it increases the food chain’s competitiveness.
By touring restaurants, Cathy shows franchise owners and employees how to provide authentic service. His continual interactions with stakeholders also give him the opportunity to develop new ideas.
Creating Business Opportunities
His close relationship with the day-to-day challenges of restaurant operation extends beyond the customers. Chick-fil-A distinguishes itself as an affordable franchise opportunity. People who pass the competitive franchise application process can launch their new business for an investment of mere thousands of dollars instead of the normal hundreds of thousands of dollars. This low monetary requirement represents Cathy’s devotion to generosity. It gives people who might not have the financial means to build a successful business an opportunity to do so.
Chris Graeve has taken this aspect of his role model’s business style to heart. As the leader of RE-build Properties and Christopher Robin Real Estate, Chris has designed a business model where employees and fix-and-flip operators can increase their professional skills and pursue financial goals.
The generosity baked into the Chick-fil-A business model includes educational opportunities for employees. The company’s Remarkable Futures program awards scholarships to thousands of applicants every year for use at any accredited educational institutions. Twelve employees in 2019 received True Inspiration Scholarships of $25,000 each. A remaining 6,016 employees in 47 states will collect $2,500 Leadership Scholarships.
The scholarship tradition began in 1973 because the company’s founder believed that employees who had educational ambitions should have the resources to pursue their dreams. Dan Cathy has grown the scholarship program significantly over the decades. In 2019, the company announced scholarship awards totaling $15.3 million.
The massive annual scholarship program illustrates Cathy’s commitment to caring for the people involved in his business. His father taught him to exceed the expectations of customers, and the scholarships demonstrate the company’s mission to exceed the expectations of employees as well.
The concept of making the success of all parties a priority has motivated Chris Graeve to do the same. Like Cathy, he believes that greater success arises from greater generosity. Chris also grew up with a father to mentor him. In his case, it was the real estate business instead of the restaurant business, but the Biblical principles of generosity and integrity remain the same.
Supporting the Community
Chris gives to organizations important to him and his faith just as Cathy supports nonprofits that represent his values. Cathy gives his time and resources to causes such as the City of Refuge, Passion City Church, The Rock Ranch, and the outreach ministries operated by the WinShape Foundation.
When Cathy came of age, he joined the company formally in 1970, and he has remained true to his father’s command that the business should care for people. As a restaurant chain that sells chicken sandwiches, Chick-fil-A under Cathy’s modern leadership continues to serve high-quality food and win the loyalty of satisfied customers.
Although Chris Graeve does not hold a leadership position over 100,000 staff members like Cathy, he has learned the lessons offered by his role model. A leader has much more to gain by remaining focused on everyone’s success instead of withdrawing from the community that created the success in the first place. Chris aspires to be the servant-leader who can show everyone involved in his business the best practices for success.
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