Forbes magazine reported that in the summer of 2012, the billionaire family behind fast food chain Chick-fil-A found themselves … well, if not in hot water, then in a piping vat of chicken grease.
That year, with same-sex marriage on four state ballots, the scion of Forbes rich list stalwart S. Truett Cathy (net worth: $6.2 billion) hit headlines for taking a public stance against equal rights.
In July, Truett’s son Dan, Chick-fil-A’s CEO, told the Baptist Press he was “guilty as charged” in his support of what he described as traditional marriage.
“We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles,” Cathy said.
The fast food chain’s in-your-face Christian values weren’t exactly news even then. Forbes ran a story on The Cult of Chick-fil-A in 2007 and its stores closing on Sunday to allow workers to attend church.
Rather, it was Dan Cathy’s reaffirmation of his firm’s same-sex marriage stance that set off a wave of protests, with LGBT kiss-ins at Chick-fil-A stores and even some lampooning via music video, with three drag queens skewering Chick-fil-A to the tune of Wilson Phillips’ “Hold On.” (Sample lyric: Some day somebody’s gonna make you wanna gobble up a waffle fry / But no go, don’t you know, Chick-fil-A says you make the baby Jesus cry.)
Now, almost two years later, Dan Cathy — a self-described evangelical Christian — says he made a mistake.
In a rare and wide-ranging interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Cathy admitted his anti-equality stance probably wasn’t a wise business decision, regretting “making the company a symbol in the marriage debate:”
“Every leader goes through different phases of maturity, growth and development, and it helps by [recognizing] the mistakes that you make,” Cathy said. “And you learn from those mistakes. If not, you’re just a fool. I’m thankful that I lived through it and I learned a lot from it.”
Cathy agreed that the “lingering identity” of Chick-fil-A with “anti-gay groups” that jumped to its defense in 2012 has meant “alienating market segments.”
“Consumers want to do business with brands that they can interface with, that they can relate with,” Cathy said. “And it’s probably very wise from our standpoint to make sure that we present our brand in a compelling way that the consumer can relate to.”
Cathy himself hasn’t changed his own views on same-sex marriage. As he told the AJC: “I think the time of truths and principles are captured and codified in God’s word, and I’m just personally committed to that. I know others feel very different from that, and I respect their opinion, and I hope that they would be respectful of mine.”
What is clear is that his family’s fried chicken business, which made $4.6 billion in sales in 2012, will be staying out of the fray when it comes to equality.
“I think that’s a political debate that’s going to rage on,” he told the Journal-Sentinel. “And the wiser thing for us to do is to stay focused on customer service.”
Read more about the billionaire Cathys, including charitable donations to anti-gay-marriage groups, here.