Chic-fil-A, one of America's most popular fast-food restaurants, recently came under fire for its stance on gay marriage. Dan Cathy, son of Chic-fil-A founder Truett Cathy, echoed his father's belief in the traditional marriage model. His statements served to fuel the polarizing gay marriage debate while drawing harsh criticism from the gay community as well as politicians.
Chic-fil-A's founder, Truett Cathy, is proud of the faith-based model that all of his restaurants were built around. All Chic-fil-A restaurants are closed on Sundays in order for employees to attend church or spend time with their families, and Christian music is played in many restaurants.
Like most religious company owners, the Cathy family places a large emphasis on philanthropy. Truett and Jeanette Cathy founded the Winshape Foundation with the goal of training faith-based leaders by providing faith-based opportunities to support their own communities and communities abroad.
Chic-fil-A isn't the only company with religious founders. Other well-known public business leaders place a large emphasis on their religious faith as well.
Dave Thomas was the founder and CEO of Wendy's (Nasdaq:WEN). Named after his daughter Wendy, it is the third-largest hamburger chain in the world. Before his death, Thomas starred in more than 800 Wendy's commercials and became a household name and face.
As an adopted child and devout Christian, Thomas had a heart for philanthropy. He founded the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, a non-profit organization that makes the adoption process easier and more affordable. He was also a supporter of St. Jude Children's Cancer Research Center along with numerous other charities.
James Cash Penney
James Cash Penney was an entrepreneur who, in 1902, became a partner in a store he would later purchase from his partners. He called it the Golden Rule Store because he believed in treating others the way he wanted to be treated. That name was phased out by 1914 when it became J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP). The store would eventually expand to become a nationwide department store chain with as many as 2,000 locations open for business.
Penney's father was a Baptist minister who shaped his religious beliefs throughout his life. Penney was not only a 33rd degree Freemason who gave of his time and resources, but the Penney Family Fund is a foundation that currently provides financial backing to advance causes dealing with human rights, the environment, and community needs.
Walmart founder Sam Walton got his start working as a clerk at a J.C. Penney store but later opened the first Walmart (NYSE:WMT) in 1962. By 1967, the family-owned 24 stores earning $12.7 million in sales. Today, there are nearly 10,000 stores employing 2.2 million people.
Walton was a Presbyterian and an active philanthropist. The Walton Family Foundation keeps a low media profile, but BusinessWeek named the Walton family as one of the 50 Top American Givers in 2008.
Dolly Parton may be the best-known female country singer in history. She has written more than 3,000 songs and sold more than 100 million albums. She has starred in 17 big-screen and TV movies and has owned restaurants and lines of wigs sold by Revlon (NYSE:REV). She believes that her talents come from God and has gone on record saying that she has a strong religious faith.
Her philanthropic efforts center on the Dollywood Foundation which oversees "Dolly Parton's Imagination Library." The program mails a book to each enrolled child from birth until their enrollment in kindergarten. The program has expanded internationally, distributing more than 2.5 million books each year.
The Bottom Line
Chic-fil-A made headlines and created controversy, causing people to question whether religious views should be an influential part of a business. Other business leaders (Thomas, Penny, Walton, and Parton representing only a small sample), however, not only speak openly about their faith but actively work to benefit their communities, demonstrating that religion and compassion often go hand-in-hand.