Why Culture Should be the Foundation of Success—Steve Robinson, Former Chief Marketing Office & Exec VP, Chick-fil-A

I know we talk a lot about culture, but we are going to do it some more. Today, we get a chance to hear from someone that helped build the Chick-fil-A brand we all know and love today. He shares with us so many great pieces of wisdom and nuggets of knowledge you are going to want to listen all the way to the end of the episode. 

Our guest today is Steven Robinson, the former Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Chick-fil-A for more than 35 years. He recently authored the book “Covert Cows & Chick-fil-A: How Faith, Cows, and Chicken Built an Iconic Brand” and we discuss his book and some of the magic behind the Chick-fil-A success.

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Steve Robinson is the former Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Chick-fil-A. He was responsible for overseeing marketing, advertising, brand development, menu development, and hospitality strategies, and was involved in the development of the ‘Eat Mor Chikin’ campaign. Currently, Steve is a speaker and consultant on organizational culture design andleadership, brand strategy development, marketing planning, and distinctive advertising principles. He also recently authored the book “Covert Cows & Chick-fil-A: How Faith, Cows, and Chicken Built an Iconic Brand”.


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Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (00:00):

Welcome to the Multiply Your Success Podcast, where each week we help growth-minded entrepreneurs and franchise leaders take the next step in their expansion journey. I’m your host, Tom DuFore CEO of Big Sky Franchise Team, and I am so excited about our guest today. In fact, it’s one that I’ve been hoping to have on since we started the podcast to bring on someone that was able to live and be a part of the whole growth of Chick-fil-A. And I’m so fortunate today that we get a chance to hear from someone that was able to help build that and build the brand that we all know and love today.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (00:37):

He shares with us so many great pieces of wisdom, nuggets of knowledge you are going to want to listen all the way through to the end of the episode. And our guest is Steve Robinson. He’s the former executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Chick-fil-A for more than 30 years. He recently wrote the book, Covert Cows and Chick-fil-A: How Faith, Cows, and Chicken Built an Icon Brand. And we discuss his book and some of the magic behind the Chick-fil-A success. And as an extra special treat for me, this just happens to be my birthday week. So I’m so grateful to be celebrating this week with this great interview with Steve Robinson.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (01:20):

Thomas, the treat to be with you. My name is Steve Robinson, I am the retired CMO and executive vice president of marketing for Chick-fil-A. I had a 35 year career with them, plus three years on their board. Prior to that, I was six flags organization for seven years. My first job out of graduate school was the Texas instruments when they were first introducing a handheld consumer computers, which were much more bulky than this.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (01:52):

And didn’t do anything this does today. Went to Northwestern Grad School and Auburn University undergraduate. I met my sweetheart and my wife now for almost 50 years, Diane at Auburn, I have two grown children and four grandchildren. We all live in the Atlanta area and have had an unbelievably blessed career and love, just love sharing what I’ve learned and not only good, but including the mistakes with others. So it’s an honor to be able to spend some time with you.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (02:31):

Well, thank you so much. And I’ve had the opportunity to read your book and for just it’s called Covert Cows, and Chick-fil-A: How Faith, Cows, and Chicken Built an Iconic Brand. I love the title it’s really catchy, and I think it’s great. And one of the things you talk about in there, you talk about this idea of how at Chick-fil-A there was this concept of grace and truth that was interwoven throughout so much of what was happening at the organization. And I’d love just to open up with you, sharing a little bit about what that was like and what that meant.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (03:09):

Yeah, that’s a great question. And I’m glad you asked it. As I just alluded, I spent my first eight years of professional work at two companies that were publicly owned, Texas Instruments and Six Flags. And being in marketing at both, I had a pretty intense focus on creating transactions, driving sales, being publicly owned, as you might expect, they both had a short term orientation. Every quarter was important and so when I get approached by Chick-fil-A in the summer of 1980 to potentially help them begin a marketing department, I had met them.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (03:57):

I had some understanding who they were. I’d actually pitched them on building a restaurant in the park and that didn’t work out, but that’s how the relationship got started and I figured what I would to talk to them. I had a lot of respect for the company, it was private and I like their product and what little exposure I had to them, I was impressed with the people I met. And that’s really the beginning where I started to understand to answer your question.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (04:30):

First of all, that interview process was almost five months long. And I’m in my last interview with Tru Kathy, who was the founder, who passed away in 2014. And Tru looks at me and I look at him after about an hour being together and I said, Tru, this is a little cumbersome for me. I’ve had a lot of visits out here. I’m doing it still. I really like the job I’ve got. What are you looking for in the ideal marketing candidate, and I’m the guy. Now Tom’s answer was one of the very first major clues, this is a very different organization. There was this long pause and he said, I have absolutely no idea whatever it is, I don’t want to do it. I remember what I asked, what are you looking for?

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (05:21):


Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (05:22):

And after a pause he said, but I do know that if we invite you to join Chick-fil-A, it’s going to be because we trust you, we think we can have fun together. And that you’re going to love it so much here. You’re not going to go anywhere. Now I’ve had four jobs in eight years with two different companies.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (05:43):

And I found that I answer very odd, but what he was really basically telling me, we value things beyond transactions. We value character, we value interrogated, we valued fun friendships. And the guy even though the business was still less than a hundred million dollar business, he had already laid the cultural foundation for what proved to be an environment that allowed me and my team to have an unbelievable brand building experience.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (06:17):

So what I found on his desk was his favorite verse Burke Bible verse Proverbs 22:1, a good name would be more valued than riches, silver or gold. And I asked him, is it true what’s the [inaudible 00:06:34] of that verse. He said, well, quite frankly, I adapted that as a life verse when I was in the third grade, and he said the essence of it is, the most important thing to me is my reputation.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (06:49):

Cash flow is a life bullet of a business, but that’s not the most important thing to me. He says, I’m more interested in helping others, not the customers, but everybody I associated with and having a positive influence on people. And as I unpack in the book, within a year and a half of me being there, we have a major financial crisis in the American economy in 1982, which forced us to step back and really put on paper what was important at Chick-fil-A.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (07:20):

And the result of that three day meeting was the Chick-fil-A corporate purpose to glorified God by being a faithful steward of all those entrusted to us. And they have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A. And I heard true during that meeting articulate to his young executive committee. I am more interested in having a positive reputation, good stewardship, rest on those things of influence and honoring God on good stewardship.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (08:00):

And he cared about making money but is more interested in pouring into people and giving people an opportunity within the Chick-fil-A family to thrive. And as to get specific to your question, as I worked with that guy for over three decades, I don’t know I’ve ever met anybody who was more generous and who was more gracious.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (08:23):

And you say, well, how do you know that? Well, it played out in the decisions he made and the policies he had. For starters, the Chick-fil-A operator deal, Chick-fil-A puts up all the money, they find the site, they build the restaurant. After the operator pays a Rollie, the Chick-fil-A for operating support, brand support, et cetera. They split the bottom line with 50/50. Now, when I joined Chick-fil-A, the average operator was making about 40,000 a year on their net.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (08:56):

All I can tell you is today, I can’t give you a number. It would betray their confidence. But I can tell you that the average operator income today is more than 10 times that the deals never changed. And that people asked him, why do operators stay with Chick-fil-A so long? Well, I think there’s two reasons. One, it’s generous. I just demonstrated how generous it is, but two, they trust Chick-fil-A, they trust true and they trust the relationship and he would go the extra mile to give operators a chance to be successful.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (09:37):

And as a result operator turnover is very low. You experience good team members in Chick-fil-A in restaurants, because operators are tracking great talent, keeping them much longer, developing them, training them, investing in them. And so you have a general culture that benefits from a guy that it extends second. My grace very often in his relationships and it had a general attitude of generosity. So beyond the operator deal, they got scholarship programs, they got generous perks for staff.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (10:12):

They give away literally hundreds of millions of dollars every year to community support stuff. It reflected in drug capital. Financially, he literally tied to the business. And they still are and that tie flows through now three different foundations. And that’s not even in counting what they do with scholarships and the operator deal. So the best way to prove to you that Chick-fil-A is an organization of grace and generosity is to see how it plays out in their policies and their working standards, their working systems. I will also tell you case in point in 2012, we had a pretty big major publicity blow up that involved debate over same sex marriage.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (11:08):

And the net of that was, we stepped back from that and said, how are we going to handle the reaction that has occurred in the marketplace? And after two or three days of debate, we said, we’re going to handle the way we handle people the counter. We’re going to treat everybody to honor dignity and grace. And the key word there is everybody. And we’re not going to get into some political or social debate that in any way would fracture or jeopardize relationships, not only at the home office, but certainly in our restaurants, at the stores.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (11:44):

To me, now that’s 20 some plus years into my relationship, and that was a decision that was driven by an environment of grace and inclusion. So a long answer your question, but that you identified two of the strongest attributes of the Chick-fil-A culture and it reflected the founder.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (12:10):

Yeah. Thank you for sharing that and going into detail on that, it was something that really resonated. I kept hearing it was woven throughout every example, every story, all the information you shared really stood out to me. And that’s one of the reasons I was interested in leading with that, just to gain additional perspective. So thank you I really appreciate that.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (12:34):

You’re welcome.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (12:35):

Yeah. One other question I had here as well is, when you just made the decision to focus your marketing on having the marketing be run through the local franchisee and the local operator.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (12:51):


Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (12:51):

And that’s a big decision that you made, and that’s something that we work with franchise organizations all over the country, all over the world. And that’s always an interesting dynamic. There’s always this franchisee franchisor relationship, so I’d love for you to share about how you went through the transition.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (13:16):

Well, it didn’t just happen like that. So many things in life, you work your way to making a crucial milestone decision because of accumulation of experiences. I’ll share just a couple that really were catalytic. One that I shared in the book happened in 1982. In fact, it was right during the same time of that financial crisis in America, we did a national promotion. We had an agency that they had already hired. I inherited the agency. I’m still learning the business.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (13:53):

And they had recommended a national promotion using direct mail, the newspaper inserts in an effort to counter McDonald’s introduction of their chicken sandwich. And the theme of the promotion was Chick-fil-A first and best. And the goal was to clarify that we were the first chicken sandwich and get people to try it. Well, this promotional flyer had an array of coupons in it. Now we had used coupons at six flags, everybody in the fast food business was using coupons and discounts. And I didn’t give him much of a second thought.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (14:32):

And I came alongside the idea that was already in the works. And I put in some input around the media plan and how to beef out visibility and redemptions. Well, fast forward to when the promotion rolls out, literal it’s so successful, it’s becoming an operational nightmare. And it all told it went over budget by $2 million. And that may not sound a lot to you and me, particularly in this day of government printing trains, but $2 million was almost 2% of chick for always gross sales at that point.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (15:13):

So it was a lot of, it hit the company hard.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (15:16):


Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (15:17):

And I was fully expecting someone in accounting to salt my yard. But anyway, I stepped back from that experience and I went to Jimmy Collins, who was the COO two or three days into this thing blowing up, said, Jimmy, I apologize, I shouldn’t have been so aggressive, really not knowing enough about the implications on the business and I’m sorry. And he had an amazing response and this gets back to your point of grace. He said, don’t worry about it, I supported the campaign. I supported your recommendations. He says, besides we’ve just invested $2 million in your education. You’re never going to make that mistake again. Now little did I know the further implications of that Tom was, I stepped back on that from that alone, with some of my early staff and said, why are we couponing?

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (16:13):

Why are you even doing this? Just because everybody else does it? Here we are in a restaurant that actually makes their own food fresh in every store. We have an independent operator on site who’s attracting great talent. The food is worth the price. What are we doing discounting the couponing, this, and we just made the decision. Now we may take years to do it, but we’re not doing it anymore. We’re going to stop. So the natural reaction of operators was, well, then what are you going to do to help build ourselves? And we thought through what they would probably ask us. And our response was, and this was after a lot of wrestling, we’re going to help you build your sales, we’re not going to build it for you.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (17:05):

We’re going to focus on building the brand, whatever that means, advertising the menu, the look of the brand, the brand experience, whatever. We’re going to help you build the brand and we’re going to use your marketing tools for you to build your sales profitably, but we’re not going to do it with couponing, discounting, or price promotions over. It took years to make that transition and so the answer to your question is, once we made that decision, we had to step back and look, okay. The traditional marketing model that most franchise organizations is a pyramid upside down, and most of the execution and the money and the strategies come from the home office and then comes to the market level.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (17:51):

And the local store doesn’t do much other than put up the menu boards and maybe some stuff on the windows. The manager’s not doing anything bill says. So because of the decision to walk away from couponing discounting and trying to control marketing out of Atlanta, we didn’t have enough money to impact the performance of stores.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (18:11):

Anyway, remember most of our stores are in malls. We said, why don’t we flip this thing literally on its ear, figure out how we’re going to support the operators to be the primary marketing agents of the business. And at that time, maximize the mall as a medium, we’re paying premium rent to be in the mall. And so we set out on a journey to give them creative tools, brand tools, promotional ideas, anything they needed to literally build their sales from the counter out.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (18:45):

That’s how the long journey started that would’ve been the mid eighties. We said, we’re not going to market like all these other guys, and it was a long trip and that trip’s still going on, but it’s built upon a marketing pyramid that is operator centric. Then the market and the primary role of the home offices do it for the operators, what they cannot do for themselves. Design the brand, support the brand services they need to market in their restaurant, in their community, and in their markets.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (19:19):

And by the way, the result of that is when I left, we were spending as a percent of sales, roughly half what all the other people in the fast food industry spent.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (19:30):


Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (19:31):

Much more efficient, more impactful and the other advantage we had was, the independent operator who’s not just running, managing the store. They’re committed to that store, they’re committed to that community.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (19:46):

They were capable of doing more than just opening the restaurant every morning and running the operation. And so we just simply said, look, you want to grow your sales and grow your income? We’re going to give you all the resources you need and you go out and do it. And I will tell you, my last two years there operators generated double digit, same stores and sales increase. And the five years I’ve been gone, every year’s had a same store sale increase of double digit. Unbelievable.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (20:20):


Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (20:21):

When I left Chick-fil-A my last year there, which was 15 sales were 6.8 billion. Last year, they did over 17 billion dollar in sales.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (20:32):

That’s incredible.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (20:33):

There is no way you’re to get that performance from a marketing organization driving it from the central office. Not got to happen because of these operators who’ve engaged with their communities, built relationships. They’ve created this incredible network of raving fans as we call them customers who are basically brand ambassadors. And that business is flowing because of the flywheel of the Chick-fil-A operators, building the brand and building sales on their own.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (21:13):

Yeah. Well, and this leads me to another point you had talked about, which is, this idea where you said at one point that you use data to inform decisions and not make the decisions for you. And I thought that was a really unique perspective, especially in today’s world, where we have data science and data analytics, and we have artificial intelligence…

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (21:38):


Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (21:38):

Running all the data and the numbers and this and that.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (21:41):


Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (21:43):

And then just working. I work with entrepreneurs every day and very often, they’re trusting, an instinct and intuition that they’re compliance so it’s these almost polarized worlds and you mention and describe how you used both and in making decisions so I’d love for you to talk a little bit about that.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (22:04):

Well, again, that was a journey. Early in my career, we started using customer voice research to make decisions because when I got there, they weren’t. They were making most of their decisions. They weren’t even using a lot of data at all. They were making it based just on experience and intuition. And what I discovered is, as we listened to the customers, we suddenly got smarter. But then as the business grew, this whole evolution of the role of not only research analytics, but also internal number analytics, financial, customer count, customer insights data that all starts to come to bear on the business.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (22:52):

And quite frankly, I found myself at times at odds with people predominantly in the financial realm, felt like every major strategic decision in the business, particularly around brand or marketing should be data driven and should be data proven even before you launched the initiative. Well, here’s the problem for me. We were trying to build a brand that was built around emotional engagement with customers. They want transactioning driven. It was a relational driven because of the focus through the operators and through creating a guest experience that was relational. Right down to my pleasure and smiles and eye contact right down to the cow campaign and made you laugh and smile.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (23:48):

You have a hard time using analytics to measure the emotional engagement of people around the brand. And we finally got to the place that we were able to convince people, the ultimate measure of brand performance are two things. One, how you doing on same store sales, real growth, and two, with a lot of help from a friend called Fred Rael on book he wrote called, The Ultimate Question. We were able to put research in place by store and by market where every quarter we ask literally, thousands of customers based upon today’s experience at this restaurant or your favorite Chick-fil-A restaurant, would you recommend Chick-fil-A to family or friend? One to 10, 10 is perfect.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (24:47):

And what we discovered with that data, when we then took those as people and put them in focus groups, tens versus everybody else, or nine tens versus everybody else. The tens were what became known as raving fans for us. They were brand advocates. They were the heaviest users, they were the ones that talked about the brand the most, they were the ones that used it the most. They were the ones that were willing to pay full price and so we started focusing on using data to measure how many raving fans, how many tens are we creating?

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (25:23):

Because otherwise we had people crunching all kinds of data, and everybody had their opinion on which piece of data was the most important. And we were able to find only filter it down. The most important data is two things, same store growth by store, because it’s the ultimate measure of customer satisfaction. Now behind you, we had analytics, but that was the one that mattered. And two, is this operator creating more tens than he was last year or she was last year. You can make measure that the beauty of measuring tens is it was a way to measure emotion.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (26:03):

It was a way to get beyond transaction focus, and focus on heart connection, relational connection. And that was really the breakthrough moment where we got the perfect measurement of data counts, but let’s make sure we’re measuring the right thing based upon what we’re trying to create. And what we were trying to create was an emotionally engaging endearing brand. And we finally figured out how to measure that. And now if you’re not trying to create an emotionally engaging brand, if you’re only trying to create transactions, you’re going to have a different measurement, you’re not going to do it the way we did it.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (26:51):

Right. Yeah. Well, and thank you by the way for sharing that, breaking that down for us. And…

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (26:58):


Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (26:59):

Yeah, go ahead.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (27:00):

I would [inaudible 00:27:00] one more thing Tom, and I don’t want this sound but CMOs marketers have to decide what are you trying to create in that business? And fortunately, I had a founder in TruIT and a COO in Jimmy Collins who understood what they were really trying to create was a great reputation. Remember Proverbs 22:1?

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (27:28):


Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (27:29):

They weren’t just trying to beat quarterly earnings, quarter after quarter. They were trying to create a great reputation. And because of that, it gave me the freedom to be objective and quite frankly, use intuition and bring things to the table that were counter to the things that normally were going on in the marketplace. As I say in my book, things that were quite frankly renegade to the marketplace and do the unexpected, whether it was around hospitality or advertising, or events, or even the menu that we’re designed to create an emotional loyalty to Chick-fil-A.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (28:16):

And that does require a marketing leader to lean create a proper balance between data and intuition and fight for what they think they’re trying to create. And fortunately, because I wasn’t being measured upon quarterly earnings, I had a founder and a CEO that had my back for over 30 years and I got to do what I just described. And I recognize many marketing leaders don’t get that chance, but I did.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (28:54):

Yeah. I totally agree it’s such a unique opportunity as you described there and that’s a great lead right into one of my questions that I was curious about. You describe the… You talk about three virtues of advertising our brand. You talk about it being engaging and endearing and enduring.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (29:19):


Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (29:19):

And I thought, I love that summary of that, so I’d love for you to maybe talk about that. And while you’re at it, I’d love to integrate it’s hard not to interview you and not ask about the cows and how that all came together. And I think from what you described in your book, those two go hand in hand?

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (29:39):

They do go hand in hand and I have to give credit where credit due, Stan Richards, who is the principal at the Richards group that created the cow campaign early on relationship back in 1995, 1996, we’re sitting in a meeting. They haven’t even brought us the cow idea yet, but we had already made the decision, we wanted these guys because they fought out of the box. Their record was built on great creative, it wasn’t based on innovative media strategies, it was built on great brand shaping creative, and we’re in a meeting one day and he says, we’ve discovered that if people don’t love your advertising, they’re not going to love your brand. Think about that. That is a high bar and I said, well, unpack that a little bit.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (30:44):

He said, well, you got to have advertising that becomes enduring to them. They look forward to it. It connects with them and ideally, it’s advertising that you can run for a long time. So as it is not only endearing for a moment, it becomes endearing long term and therefore it is an enduring idea. Okay. So basically, I stole that concept as higher order, as what makes for a great brand. You want a brand that every time somebody encounters BMW or Chick-fil-A, or whoever it is, whatever they see or experience, they know immediately that’s BMW.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (31:42):

They know that’s Chick-fil-A, that’s the experience I would expect from Chick-fil-A or BMW or Nordstroms or Southwest airline that I’m immediately engaged because that’s exactly who I think they are. Two, whatever it is they’re experiencing, makes the brain more endearing. It simply raises the temperature of how much they enjoy the brand. And I could relate to this, because I’m a BMW fan. I’ve had five of them. And so the ultimate driving machine is more than just a phrase to me.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (32:26):

And then this whole idea of enduring great brands typically live a very long time because they do those first two things well, and they enjoy an enduring track record. And even if they wander away from it a little bit, they usually find a way to come back to the things that made them engaging and enduring. So that thinking is what led to them developing the cow campaign, but are also at a bigger level, led us to think about everything we do, when we do an event at a bowl game or a football game, we want to engage in a way no other sponsors engaging. We want the experience of enduring and we want the memory to endure. And it drove everything we did.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (33:22):

This is just a tremendous takeaway there, just a great filter. It’s simple to remember and just even write down, but just a practical takeaway, just to think about, okay, is this engaging? I think about any marketer, any business leader?

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (33:41):

If it looks like everybody else is not going to be engaging.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (33:44):


Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (33:45):

For example, those three things are a high bar. It forced you to be very innovative and very creative and to think oxymoron out of the box. We got a lot of pleasure and basically looking at people in meetings if that looks and smells like fast food, we’re not going to do that. It made some of our discussions pretty short.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (34:17):

Yeah. Well that’s great, right?

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (34:17):

Yes, exactly.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (34:17):


Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (34:17):

Sure, it is.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (34:18):

Yeah. Having that clarity wrapped around I think it’s phenomenal. Well, Steve, one of the thing I’d like to do and something we ask every guest that’s been on the show, we transition to ask the same four questions before everybody goes.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (34:36):


Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (34:36):

And the first question we always like to ask is, have you had a miss or two in your career? And if you could share one and something you learned from it.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (34:43):

Oh, wow. Well, I already alluded to one miss when I was quite frankly too aggressive and out of my arrogance and beefed up and ran a promotion that it shouldn’t have ever been $2 million over a budget. It was my fault. The bigger lesson learned however turned out to be a bus which I’ve already shared. I’d say another one was early in my career. I’m talking 10 years into my career. I probably got a department of pushing a hundred people, I’m running meetings every week, strategic planning meetings, I’m on the executive committee, and I finally had one guy that was part of my team.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (35:26):

Who’s a dear friend, still is, he pulled me off to the side and he said, Steve, I don’t think you’re doing it. But when we’re having discussions and you’re soliciting feedback, your body language is communicating. Hurry up, I already know the answer. He says, you’re not doing it. But in your mind, we can see you doing this. Well, his name was Barry. Barry did me a huge favor. And one of the great takeaways from that is I learned to shut up and listen. And a funny thing happened, Tom, as I became a more patient and better listener, and learned to be the last guy to speak rather than the first, I suddenly got smarter.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (36:18):

So yeah, I was a terrible listener and I felt compelled that I had to have all the answers, which led third to, I was impatient when it came to selecting talent. And I learned through the Chick-fil-A culture. And even that experience slow down and attract people that can do better than what you want done, if you did it yourself.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (36:47):

And I started to build a team who were so good at what they did, that I was able to focus on the things that only I could do, that only I should do and empower them and release them. And the irony was that Tru had already been a role model for me for years and I was just a little slow on the uptake. I would say those were three pretty big ones.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (37:12):


Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (37:13):


Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (37:13):

Yeah. That’s great. Thank you for sharing those. And how about on the other side, we’ve talked about a whole bunch of makes along the way. Is there anything else you’d like to reiterate or maybe another one you’d like to share?

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (37:25):

Well, one was, you alluded to the account campaign the day I’m sitting in my office. We hadn’t been working with agency a year yet. And they shipped to the guy who was running the agency relationship. They shipped him six new billboard ideas, because at that time that’s all we could afford to do billboards. And we were doing 3D creative. I won’t get into them, but we had different concepts using 3D boards, one of the best one was huge rubber chicken in the headline was if it’s not Chick-fil-A, it’s a joke. Okay. But anyway, I’m sitting in my office and I look at my desk and he’s laid six new word concepts down on my desk, face down.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (38:10):

I flip them, the last one is two cows painting, eating more chicken on a billboard and I absolutely love it. I just started laughing out loud. In fact, two or three people come to my doorway, what is so funny? The breakthrough moment was simply having the intuitive hunch. That’s a big idea. And we ended up running it one board in our top 20 markets. The rest was literally history, it took off. Suddenly, we were just looking at a billboard idea.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (38:52):

We had stumbled into a campaign idea that became a 20 plus year campaign and in its own right, became iconic. It helped build the brand Chick-fil-A without question. I think the second milestone moment that really impacted my career was I’m studying some Nielsen data one day looking at the lifestyle I have as a Chick-fil-A customers and the stuff where they shop, things they watch, events they enjoy.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (39:24):

And I won’t go into all the details, but I suddenly see one of the highest index of Chick-fil-A customers was they either go to, or they watch college football. Now this is a point in the mid nineties, when we’re starting to ask the question, okay, what can we do for operators they cannot do for themselves? And it was about time to start entertaining either regional or national media and sponsorship.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (39:53):

So the essence of that was it started as a discussion in the book, a conversation of over two years to become the title sponsor of the Chick-fil-A peach bowl and began our relationship in college football. And for the first several years, the only media we had was the 10 sports that were part of the ball game. But it became a 20 plus year journey in the college football space that went from the ball game, becoming a member of the college football playoff, active with CBS, ESPN, every major conference.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (40:33):

And I think maybe one of the bigger outros was we started doing licensed Chick-fil-A restaurants on college campuses now, or back then. And today there’s over 300 restaurants on university campuses across America. Revolutionize the brand and most of our media expenditures at Chick-fil-A even today are still dominantly in the collegiate space because it was so efficient.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (41:02):

And literally, I had Troy Cathy on the floor of the dome one year of the Chick-fil-A peach bowl. And I was just thanking him for his support and he looked up with the people on the stands. He said, well, these look like our customers to me and it was that simple to him. He had an intuitive sense that college athlete athletics was a great spot to be. And it really helped take cows plus that really launched us as a national brand.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (41:32):

Yeah. Well, and thank you for sharing that. And Steve, how about this idea of a multiplier? Is there a multiplier or two you used in your career for business personal professional?

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (41:47):

I think, Tom, the multiplier, I could think of a couple. I already alluded to it higher, great talent, and not only is my job easier, great talent attracts more great talent. I have never worked at a more talented group of people than the people I got to work with Chick-fil-A. Quality attracts quality and I don’t mean just competency, I mean character and just wanting to be around them. And the multiplier effect is what I just said. They attract more great people and that really is the key to the Chick-fil-A restaurants.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (42:42):

The operators attract more great operators. The operators attract great talent in their restaurants. Many of whom become operators and it’s this flywheel of talent within the Chick-fil-A family. The second thing I would say is the clarity of defining what we wanted the brand to be even as late as 2012, where we put our heads and research around it again. And the net of it was Chick-fil-A. We want Chick-fil-A be a brand where good meets gracious. It’s not just about the food, it’s about the entire experience and it’s really about the personal engagement with people.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (43:24):

My point is the clarity of not just your corporate purpose, but your brand purpose creates synergy and the flywheel effect. The last thing I will say is clarity around corporate purpose not only helps the business make better decisions, it’s easier to filter out what’s right, and what’s wrong. It actually helps people figure out what’s important to them.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (43:50):

Corporal purpose had a big influence in mine, Diane’s life, even in how we approached, how we made decisions and what we chose to spend our time and our money on, so that would be three. If leaders can be clear about purpose, clear about brand mission, and clear about who you’re trying to track to the business, this happens with that question.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (44:15):

Yeah. That’s a great lead in to the last question here, Steve, which is what does success mean to you?

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (44:25):

That’s a big one. Well, the simplest way I could describe it is, if I turn around as anybody following, I think ultimately success to me is seeing people that I interacted with, people that I worked with, people that I led with, thriving. And I don’t just mean thriving professionally, but thriving personally, thriving in their marriage, their family, their spiritual lives, their next generation of children.

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (45:04):

I learned even when I retired, it didn’t take very long for me to learn when you retired from a professional point of view, people quickly forget you were ever there, but at a personal level, if you’ve had some lasting impact on people at the personal level, and you’ve tried to live out and pass onto them, values and principles that are beyond the business, those relationships don’t quit. And the impact of those relationships don’t quit. So that’s what success looks like to me, seeing other people that I’ve had interaction with thrive in every aspect of their life.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (45:52):

Well, thank you so much for sharing that. And Steve, as we wrap this up, what’s the best way for someone maybe to get a copy of your book or learn a little bit more about what you’re doing?

Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A (46:01):

Okay. Well, thanks. I’ve got a website, srobinsonconsulting.com, I’m also on LinkedIn, I also have a SRobinson consulting page on Facebook. If they go to my website, they’ll find my email and my phone number, I am doing consulting. I’m also speaking, I’m registered with a speaking bureau out of DC called Leading Authorities Incorporated, so that’d be how to do it.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (46:35):

Steve, thank you much for a wonderful interview and sharing all of the information you did with us. Let’s go ahead and jump into our three key takeaways. So takeaway number one from the interview is when Steve talked about the idea of how they use data to inform decisions, not make decisions for them. And I thought that was a really interesting point. He talked about how they use same store sales, and they asked questions to their customers about how they would rank Chick-fil-A on a scale from one to 10.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (47:09):

And they used that data and information to help inform decisions that they were making. So I thought that was a great point. The data didn’t make the decision for them, but it informed the decision so that they were having a very informed decision on how they were proceeding forward. Takeaway number two is when Steve talked about the three virtues of advertising, I thought it was fantastic, short, concise, and easy to remember.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (47:33):

He said, the three virtues of advertising are that, it needs to be engaging, endearing, and enduring. I thought those were three, just quick, easy things to remember. And takeaway number three was this idea of how he defined success. And he said two things that he looks for. Number one, if you turn around, is anyone following you? And number two are the people that are around you.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (48:04):

Are they thriving in every area and every aspect of their life? Personally, professionally and spiritually, and now it’s time for today’s win. So today’s win comes from when Steve was talking about how Chick-fil-A was focused and continues to be focused on building a great brand reputation. And that started with true of Cathy, making that focus to build a great reputation. And he said how that made his job easier as the head of marketing, because he knew exactly what he was trying to create.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (48:43):

So he talked about how having that clarity around what you want the brand to be, and your corporate purpose makes it so much easier for everyone on the team to be aligned and to make decisions. He said that they decided at Chick-fil-A, they wanted to be the brand where good meets gracious. So he said, as you’re going through this to focus on your corporate purpose brand mission and how they’re going to attract business, people, customers, and so on. And so that’s the episode today folks.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (49:16):

Please make sure you subscribe to the podcast and give us a review. And remember if you or anyone you know might be ready to franchise our business or take their franchise company to the next level, please connect with us@bigskypefranchiseteam.com. Thanks for tuning in and we look forward to having you back next week.

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