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Chick-fil-A nearly shut down in the '80s. Here's how their Christian purpose saved the company.


Not surprising

Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A new article in the the Christian Post reveals that popular Christian-owned restaurant chain Chick-fil-A nearly went under in the '80s — but its Christian mission statement likely saved the company altogether.

What are the details?

During the 1980s financial recession, Chick-fil-A was hit hard.

Steve Robinson — Chick-fil-A's chief marketing officer at the time — told the outlet that the chain restaurant's "miraculous" recovery was attributed to the company's corporate purpose, which was crafted in 1982.

"One of the really unique things about that [crisis in] 1982-1983 was it catapulted us to get clear about how we were going to market the business, to get very clear about how we're going to empower operators to be the primary brand representatives in the community," he said.

The purpose statement, according to Robinson, calls on franchises and employees to "glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact" with the brand.

Robinson's book, "Covert Cows and Chick-fil-A: How Faith, Cows, and Chicken Built an Iconic Brand," highlights the former chief marketing officer's experiences in the '80s and going forward.

"Chick-fil-A was really the pioneer of not only the chicken sandwich, but the pioneer of food service in malls," he revealed to the outlet. "Mall development came to a screeching halt, retail sales crashed, and so did Chick-fil-A sales. And we had a real cash burden."

Robinson and others on the company's executive committee decided to put their heads together in order to keep the business afloat. They ended up convening at an off-site meeting to brainstorm options.

"That's where, as one, we wrote the corporate purpose," he said. "I mean, we were on the brink of going under. And when we were sitting in that hotel room talking about what we're going to do, we made some tweaks to the plan and we froze hirings, we froze salary increases, and we cut the number of stores, cut expenses, and did all the things that a typical business would do."

One thing not particularly typical of many business models was incorporating the Christian corporate purpose.

The business's founder, Truett Cathy, also attended the meeting and spoke of what the company meant to him.

"When I was running the Dwarf House [restaurant], I had no intentions of creating a chicken sandwich," Robinson recalled Cathy saying. "It was a simple idea. That's why I was able to do it. I certainly had no idea it would spawn a business. And my primary concern is that we're good stewards of the gifts that God has given me and us."

"[H]e literally told us, if we're not great stewards of the gifts, then we're not going to have a right to honor God or to have a positive influence," Robinson added. "This business is a gift that God gave me and we're going to steward it together. And if He chooses to help us survive and prosper, great. If not, so be it."

Robinson explained that the meeting was a turning point for the company, as well as a "real eye-opening experience."

"[T]hat statement still is the ultimate litmus test on everything Chick-fil-A does," he added. "Whatever the initiative is, if it doesn't represent good stewardship that has the potential of glorifying God and serving others in a positive way, we probably shouldn't be doing it."

After the company adopted the purpose statement, Robinson said that the company experienced what could only be described as "miraculous" growth.

"There's no way to explain it," he said. "The next year, we had a 36 percent sales increase. And let me assure you, the financial crisis and the retail crisis was not over."

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