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Truett Cathy (left) and son Dan Cathy (PRNewsFoto/Chick-fil-A)

Business unusual

Opinion | Bright lights like Chick-fil-A's Truett Cathy prove that selflessness and integrity can shine through the darkness of corporate America

In an age when "big business" and "corporate greed" seem to be synonymous in the public mind, some bright lights occasionally emerge from the darkness brought on by AIG big spenders and over-the-top high-livers.

One such light is the CEO of the Aflac Insurance Company (known for the duck in the TV commercials). Dan Amos announced last week he would forego a $13 million golden parachute his company would owe him were he to be fired or lose his job in a merger or acquisition. In an interview with USA Today, Amos said, "If they don't think I am doing a good job, they don't have to worry about paying me off." How refreshing.

It would be nice to know how many honest, humble, and philanthropic business leaders we have in America. I'm sure they far outnumber the bad ones so often profiled in the media. But then honesty, charity, and virtue are not "news," we are told. Maybe not, but by promoting the sleazy and tawdry, rather than the virtuous and admirable, you are likely to get more of the one and less of the other.

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The Philanthropy Roundtable, a national association of individual donors, foundation trustees and staff, and corporate giving officers, this month awarded the founder and CEO of the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain, S. Truett Cathy, its William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership. The prize, named after the late secretary of the treasury, recognizes the highest ideals of corporate and individual philanthropy.

Cathy is the poster boy (if at 87 one can still be called a "boy") for selflessness and integrity. He is also a model for what giving back can do for individuals and a nation. "My wife and I were brought up to believe that the more you give, the more you have," Cathy told Philanthropy magazine. "Few people actually believe in this, but we do."

What has been lost in this model, which is reflective of another age, is the amount of satisfaction one gets by pouring one's life into other people. In our marketing environment, big houses and boats, private planes, and lots of money in personal accounts are said to be the source of pleasure and contentment. Cathy's wealth, while considerable in dollars, is defined by nonmaterial standards. This includes the $18 million his WinShape Foundation spent just last year on foster homes, college scholarships, a summer camp, and marriage-counseling programs.

Marriage counseling? Cathy believes a stable home is fundamental to bringing up stable children. For those children damaged by broken family ties, Cathy's foundation operates a dozen homes headed by husband-wife teams. The goal is "to provide a loving, nurturing home to those children who are victims of circumstances and need a stable, secure family environment in which to grow and mature." The homes accept boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 13. They can accommodate as many as 12 children at a time. He is currently a "grandfather" to 150 of them. For 51 years, Cathy taught a Sunday school class made up of 13-year-old boys.

In an age when business functions 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, Cathy is a throwback to the blue-laws era. None of his restaurants is open on Sunday. Cathy thinks this provides his employees with a biblical "day of rest" that is good for them.

While too many customers at retail and food establishments often complain about indifferent employees, Cathy is a stickler for kindness. He insists his employees demonstrate respect for customers and show appreciation for their patronage because it is good for business. "It doesn't cost you any more to be gracious in a service industry, but it sure pays great dividends," he told Philanthropy.

If more people knew the pleasure derived from giving for the purpose of changing lives perhaps those ineffective government programs so many conservatives complain about could be dismantled.

S. Truett Cathy has found that true wealth is not in possessions, but in giving. This not only benefits individuals, but ultimately society. Rather than build a personal empire, he is storing up treasures. "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19). In a day when the stock market is unpredictable, Cathy's investments in people will pay dividends long into the future.
© 2008 Tribune Media Services Inc.

Cal Thomas
Cal Thomas

Cal, whose syndicated column appears on WORLD's website and in more than 500 newspapers, is a frequent contributor to WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Cal on Twitter @CalThomas.

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