In perhaps a first for an NBAA Convention, Dan Cathy, president of Atlanta-based Chik-fil-A, yesterday morning opened a public meeting with a prayer. Some 250 attendees of the inaugural Aviation Leadership Breakfast, held in the Omni Hotel, quietly bowed their heads as Cathy said grace. Three hundred people had pre-registered for the breakfast, but several tables had empty seats.
The idea for the event, explained Cathy, was the dream of Dennis Blackburn, head of aircraft brokerage firm Corporate Concepts International of Kingwood, Texas., who had been trying to organize a fellowship or prayer breakfast at the NBAA Convention for years. “He wanted to gather those in aviation to a meeting not to buy or sell airplanes and services, but for fellowship,” Cathy said.
Though the meeting had a distinctive Christian quality, including a keynote address by William Graham III, son of evangelist Billy Graham, Blackburn told NBAA Convention News that the event is “not some club,” and that attendees represented many faiths, and none at all. Bryan Moss, president emeritus of Gulfstream Aerospace, was the other keynote speaker. He said, “The last place a lot of people who know me would expect to see me is at a prayer breakfast. I don’t feel particularly qualified to speak.” But he added later, “I have great respect for the value of a personal commitment to religion in one’s life. I’m honest enough with myself to acknowledge the existence of a higher power.”
Cathy, as master of ceremonies, opened by describing his father Truett Cathy’s philosophy of work and life: “If you fall in love with your work, you’ll never work again.” Truett Cathy, 86, who started in the restaurant business in 1946, still comes to work everyday. He opened the first Chik-fil-A in 1967. The fast-food restaurant chain had more than $2.2 billion in sales last year.
“I lived in a home,” said Dan Cathy, “where our motto wasn’t TGIF, but TGIM, ‘thank God, it’s Monday,’ because we really do enjoy going to work on Monday and thanking God for it. We can do this because we’ve had time to rest on Sunday.” All Chik-fil-A restaurants are closed on Sundays.
Thankful for his ability to share his faith openly, Cathy said Chik-fil-A is now improving service to its customers by teaching employees the principle of going the second mile, based on a verse in the Bible (“And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him two.”). He asked the audience rhetorically, “Do you know what 5,280 feet means in your business?” Cathy then described some of the things Chik-fil-A is doing, such as putting pepper grinders in all its restaurants and teaching employees to answer, “My pleasure,” when thanked by a customer.
Graham, CEO and president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), said he became interested in aviation at a young age when his father began using chartered aircraft at the recommendation of the association’s board of directors. The younger Graham learned to fly as a senior in high school and became hooked. “I don’t play golf. I don’t play tennis,” he said. “I work every day and I fly, usually at least once a week. When I hit the master switch in an airplane, I feel like the outside world goes away.”
BGEA operates a Mitsubishi Mu-2 and a Dassault Falcon 50, both of which the younger Graham flies. The association has seven international offices and activities in some 100 countries around the world.
Transitioning, Graham continued, “We see a lot of change in aviation, especially in avionics. My father said recently, ‘The world in which I lived when I grew up has left.’ But God doesn’t change. His Word doesn’t change. The need for salvation doesn’t change. And the way to salvation doesn’t change.”
Chik-fil-A covered the cost of this year’s Aviation Leadership Breakfast. Cathy said the organizers hope the breakfast will become an annual event at the convention, and one that NBAA includes in its official program.