Chick-fil-A’s Dan Cathy cites his father, 89-year-old company founder S. Truett Cathy, as his mentor and role model. But the younger Cathy, now president and COO of one of the largest privately owned restaurant chains in the country, remains vigilant in reaching out for new ideas and mentors in his efforts to create extraordinary customer experiences.
A few months back, Dan Cathy got a private tour through Home Depot with company founder Bernie Marcus. As they strolled the aisles, they talked strategy and reflected on what works and what doesn’t. Cathy remembers distinctly one juicy morsel Marcus imparted: “He told me how he always opened his meetings by listing all of the mistakes he’d made that week. I thought that was genius. If says to people that if it’s okay for a CEO to mess up, then it’s okay for them to mess up. And that allows for creativity.”
“Innovation has a tendency to slow down,” Cathy continues, “so I’m constantly learning and listening to others. It’s always wise to find somebody who’s done what you’re thinking about doing, buying them a cup of coffee, pulling out a pen and paper, and taking notes.”
Another area of focus is in creating customer experiences. “Customers don’t just want transactions anymore,” says Cathy. “The future is about creating remarkable experiences that customers will talk about.” At the Ohio grand opening, Cathy even shared a tent with “experiential marketing” guru Jim Gilmore, a group of folks staying up until the wee hours to hear Gilmore’s thoughts on this “unique way of thinking about retail,” which involves packaging your goods and services into a full-blown commercial event.
“Take Niketown, for example,” says Cathy. “It takes more than a piece of rubber and canvas to make you pay $200 for a pair of shoes. And American Girl. There’s more money in the experiences than in the dolls.”
Read more about Dan Cathy and "his trumpet" style of leadership in the February 2011 issue of SUCCESS magazine