How Chick-fil-A’s Corporate Purpose Statement Helped Push Company Through the 1980s Financial Recession When It Was on the Brink of Closing

Drive through customers wait in line at a Chick-fil-A restaurant on August 1, 2012 in Fort Worth, Texas. | Getty Images/Tom Pennington

While Chick-fil-A has blossomed over the last several decades to become America’s third-largest restaurant chain, there was a time during the financial recession in the 1980s when it looked as though the Christian-run business was on the “brink” of closing as mall development stopped. 

Steve Robinson, who served as Chick-fil-A’s chief marketing officer from 1981 until his retirement in 2015, detailed in a recent interview with The Christian Post that the most important element of the mall-based chicken sandwich chain’s “miraculous” recovery was the creation of the Chick-fil-A “corporate purpose.”

The corporate purpose, created at an off-site meeting of the Chick-fil-A executive committee in 1982, was the first time that the company’s biblical values were officially put down in one official statement.

“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,” said Robinson, who has a new book designed to serve as a “biography of the brand.”

“It got us really focused on cash management. And it really made us realize our future is probably not in malls and we better be figuring out what else we’re going to do to help the business grow. It led to a two-and-a-half year development process for the first free-stander that opened in 1986. So, yeah, that crisis was catalytic to a lot of stuff, but none more important than the purpose statement.”

The corporate purpose calls on the chain and its 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 Chick-fil-A.”

Robinson authored the new book Covert Cows and Chick-fil-A: How Faith, Cows, and Chicken Built an Iconic Brand. The book shares Robinson’s experiences as he participated in the company’s evolution into a nationwide brand.

Joining in 1981, Robinson witnessed things such as the decision for Chick-fil-A to remain closed on Sundays and the creation of the company’s iconic “Eat Mor Chikin” advertising campaign.

Along with Chick-fil-A’s innovative marketing decisions as well as its brand strategies, the book also shares the background of Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy, who ran a diner with his brother in South Atlanta called the Dwarf House for 21 years before the first Chick-fil-A was opened in the Greenbrier Mall in a suburb of Atlanta.

“Chick-fil-A was really the pioneer of not only the chicken sandwich but the pioneer of food service in malls,” he told CP.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith