Folks from two outstanding companies are getting together today in Georgia … and they make for very strange bedfellows, indeed.
Chick-fil-A Founder and Chairman, S. Truett Cathy, is an amazing leader and an amazing individual by just about any measure. His commitment to his employees, the customers and the communities in which Chick-fi-A operates is legendary. He is almost fanatical about kids and I can tell you from first hand experience that having your kids work in one of his stores is great. You know they are in good hands, and that they are being treated with respect – and that they are learning about business the way it should be. If you don't know about this guy, you should take a few minutes on his personal website, where you can learn quite a bit about how to run a business the right way. Most widely known is his absolute refusal to open his restaurants on Sundays – you see he takes his Christian beliefs very seriously and those principles are the cornerstones of his business practices.
Today, he is going to go over to the new KIA plant in West Point, Georgia to pick up the first KIA built in the United States. "While I am excited about adding this new Spicy Red Sorento to my collection of new and antique cars, I also am pleased to know that this manufacturing facility will help with the employment and economic growth in our region," said Cathy. The 88 year old Cathy is an avid car collector and has a pretty impressive array of them at Chick-fil-A headquarters.
KIA is quickly racking up a pretty impressive track record themselves. They are hands-down the fastest growing car company in the USA, and they are churning through the competition with cars that are low cost, but equaling Toyota and Honda in terms of quality and reliability. All things considered, KIA's and Hyundai's are quickly becoming the best car value in the country, and it is paying off for them handsomely. In terms of quality, customer focus, and profitability, KIA and Chick-fil-A are two peas in a pod. A Korean guy named B.M. Ahn is the top dog for KIA in the US and he will be the one handing the keys to the new Sorento to his partner in excellence.
I suppose Ahn is a good enough guy, but in terms of company leadership, KIA and Chick-fil-A are as far apart as two companies can be. While Cathy says things like,"I believe no amount of business school training or work experience can teach what is ultimately a matter of personal character. Businesses are not dishonest or greedy, people are. Thus, a business, successful or not, is merely a reflection of the character of its leadership,” the head guy at Hyundai (KIA's parent) has a slightly different world view. Chairman Chung Mong-Koo is currently out on bail while appealing his sentence to three years in a Korean clink and a billion dollar fine for embezzling a ton of money from the company and pouring it into his personal slush fund. He defied his father's orders to get out of the company, defied Korea's prohibition for him to leave the country, and still has nominal control of the outfit, although a presumably more honest fellow by the name of Kim Dong-jin, the CEO, calls most of the shots.
I am not at all sure what to make of this. On the one hand, the extraordinary success of Chick-fil-A is almost certainly a reflection of the strong moral and ethical character of their leader. On the other hand, the tremendous results at KIA seem to be un-phased by the fact that they are led by a scoundrel of the highest magnitude. I guess I can only conclude that great leadership will engender great results, but a committed management team can bring about great results even in the face of atrociously poor leadership.