Chick-fil-A passes CEO title to third generation of Cathy family

Atlanta chicken sandwich chain to be headed by Andrew Cathy
Employees direct traffic and take orders outside the  Chick-fil-A on Northside Dr. Monday, April  19, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Combined ShapeCaption
Employees direct traffic and take orders outside the Chick-fil-A on Northside Dr. Monday, April 19, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

A grandson of Chick-fil-A’s founder has been named the next chief executive officer of the booming fast-food chain giant, taking on a title currently held by his dad.

Andrew Cathy, 43, is slated to become CEO on Nov. 1. His father, Dan Cathy, 68, a son of founder Truett Cathy, will retain the title of chairman, the family-owned, Atlanta-based company announced Thursday.

Dan Cathy has been CEO since 2013. Truett Cathy died in 2014.

“I have every confidence Andrew is ready, Dan Cathy said in an announcement posted online. Andrew Cathy is currently the chain’s executive vice president of operations, a position he’s held since 2019.

Andrew Cathy, a grandson of Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy, will become chief executive officer of the Atlanta-based fast-food chain in November, the company announced Thursday. Andrew Cathy's father, current CEO Dan Cathy, will remain the restaurant chain's chairman. Photo courtesy of Chick-fil-A.

A number of members of the Cathy family have been involved in the business over the years. The chicken sandwich chain has been among the fastest growing in fast food and now ranks among the three largest businesses in the industry, as measured by revenue. It has enjoyed some of the highest per-restaurant sales in its segment.

Chick-fil-A’s profits rose even last year during the pandemic, even as most of the chain’s dining rooms remained closed, according to disclosures the private company is required to make to prospective franchisees.

Chick-fil-A said its annual chainwide revenue was just over $1 billion when Dan Cathy became president in 2001. It said revenue hit $14.1 billion last year with 2,627 restaurants, the vast majority of them operated by franchisees.

Andrew Cathy previously operated a Chick-fil-A in St. Petersburg, Fla. Even earlier, in 1999, he took off a semester from college to help launch a Chick-fil-A in South Africa during a failed international expansion, according to past coverage in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He later held roles related to franchisee selection and was the company’s chief people officer.

Dan Cathy said his son “is committed to ensuring the future of Chick-fil-A as a healthy, multi-generational family business.”

Andrew Cathy (left) has been picked to be the next chief executive officer of Atlanta-based fast-food chain Chick-fil-A. His father, Dan Cathy (center), is the company's current chief executive. The chain was founded by Andrew Cathy's now-deceased grandfather, Truett Cathy (right). 
Undated photo courtesy of Chick-fil-A.

Andrew Cathy said in the announcement that he looks “forward to continuing to work closely with our great Operators and Staff as we continue to have a positive influence across the communities we serve as a purpose-driven company and one of America’s most trusted brands.”

In 2009, he told the AJC that there was no guarantee he or any other Cathy would succeed his grandfather or father at the chain’s helm.

“We need the most talented people leading the business,” he said at the time.

He had previously been a teacher, including developing a business curriculum and helping coach track and field at Landmark Christian School, according to past AJC coverage. Students called him “Chicken Man.”

Cathy received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia and has a wife and four children, according to the website of a commercial real estate investment company he leads.

Chick-fil-A has often generated particularly polarizing images. It enjoys huge loyalty among fans of its fried chicken sandwiches, waffle fries and impeccably friendly staff. But for years some diners have avoided the chain after Dan Cathy repeatedly weighed in publicly against same-sex marriage. The company and its leaders also faced criticism about corporate and franchisee donations to groups some viewed as anti-gay.

Yet business continued to soar for the company. Even before the pandemic its drive-thru lines were packed, pushing the company to innovate on how to get drivers through more easily.

Nonetheless, third-party studies have found the chain’s drive-thru times have remained the slowest among major fast-food brands, even as customers give the chain and its drive-thrus high marks.

Dan Cathy was quoted as saying about 30% of people are driving away because of the long lines, according to an article in the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Cathy suggested that shows proof that there remains strong demand for the chain’s continued growth.

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