Can an executive’s views be separate from his company’s? Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A president and chief operating officer, took to Twitter earlier this week to comment on the Supreme Court’s ruling in two cases related to same-sex marriage. “Sad day for our nation; founding fathers would be ashamed of our gen,” he wrote. “[T]o abandon wisdom of the ages re: cornerstone of strong societies.” Cathy deleted the post from Twitter but it had already made its way into the news.
Chick-fil-A issued a statement about his “personal comment” the next day: “Dan recognizes his views do not necessarily represent the views of all Chick-fil-A customers, restaurant owners and employees, so he removed the tweet to eliminate any confusion.” A company spokeswoman wrote on Twitter: “Dan Cathy, like everyone in this country, has his own views.”
There is, of course, a feeling of déjà vu about the fast-food chain’s latest foray into gay-marriage politics. About a year ago, in fact, Chick-fil-A’s official representatives had pledged to keep out of these issues. “Our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena,” the company said at the time. That was in response to a Cathy-sparked controversy that ensued in the wake of an interview with the Baptist Press, in which the executive replied “guilty as charged” when asked about the company’s support of “the traditional family.” So much for keeping out of the political arena!
Distancing Cathy from Chick-fil-A is difficult. His ties to the company are personal: His father founded the chain, he’s been working there since 1970, and even the Cathy family website is maintained by the company. And Cathy is not shy about discussing the strong role his religious views play in his leadership. In the Baptist Press story, for instance, he attributed Chick-fil-A’s success to biblical values: “I think they’re inseparable.” His official bio on Chick-fil-A.com says, “His personal passion is to see the fulfillment of the Chick-fil-A Corporate Purpose: ‘To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.’”
Executives serve as spokesmen for their companies, and the line between personal and business matters is fine. Chick-fil-A will find it difficult to separate itself from Cathy’s personal views, especially because he’s kept them so close together.