A Fond Memory of Truett

It was summer of 1995 when I first met Truett Cathy. We had just started our firm. We were wet-behind-the-ears entrepreneurs. We had big dreams and still do. One of those dreams, almost 20 years ago now, was for Jackson Spalding to one day have the opportunity to work for Chick-fil-A.

My first business trip at our firm was to Washington, D.C. I got on the plane early and was in the back. As passengers arrived for the Delta flight, I looked up and saw him. He was carrying a bunch of cow trinkets. The cow campaign for CFA was just starting! And Truett was leading the way.

Truett had a big smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes. I couldn’t believe it. Truett Cathy was on the plane along with his entire leadership team. I pondered what to do. Should I go over and introduce myself? Give him one of my freshly minted business cards? I think I had 100 in my coat pocket for the big business D.C. trip.

Well, when we landed in Washington, I headed to baggage claim. It was very crowded in the Ronald Reagan airport. I stopped by the men’s room near baggage claim. As I was washing my hands, I looked to my immediate right, and there was Truett. He was washing his hands, too.

I was 30 at the time and not sure what to say. But then I remembered something. I had read one of his books earlier in the year. The book was “It’s Easier to Succeed Than to Fail.” So I told Truett, “It is easier to succeed than to fail. Thanks for writing the book. I read it earlier this year.”

He smiled and looked at me and nodded. “What is your name?” he asked in that distinctive squeaky voice. I said, sounding a bit formal, “My name is Glen Jackson. I live in Atlanta. We just started a business in July.”

“Well that is great, Glen. Good luck. I want you to have something.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a Be Our Guest card for a free Chick-fil-A Sandwich. It was signed by him. S. Truett Cathy.

I thanked him and carefully put it in my wallet while maintaining eye contact. As he walked out of the men’s room, I said to myself, “One day we are going to work for you, Mr. Cathy.”

But that was not the end of the D. C. story.

You see we both went to the baggage area to get our luggage. As I was looking for my bag on the luggage carousel, I saw Truett pulling bags off the conveyer belt and helping a young lady with her luggage. She was about six-months pregnant. He was 73 at the time. She had no idea who was helping her, but I sure did.

He got all her luggage ready as I was watching closely. She had one of those push carts you see at the airport even today.

She thanked him for helping. He said, “My pleasure,” and off she went. He never told her who he was.

I took it all in. It demonstrated to me what servant leadership is all about. No task is too small or too big for the servant leader.

You see, I learned later that from the airport helping this young lady Truett went on to have a meeting with the president at the White House.

I kept Truett’s gift to me in my wallet for more than 15 years as a reminder to me that dreams come true, and nothing in this life is a sheer coincidence. No relationship. No encounter. No invitation. No conversation. Nothing.

Let’s continue to seize the common opportunities and make them special.