Column: Chick-fil-A promotes five of its top executives

By Maria Saporta
Friday, May 11, 2012

Chick-fil-A Inc.’s stability in its management team continues with the promotion of five senior vice presidents to executive vice presidents.

Dan Cathy, president and chief operating officer of Chick-fil-A, made the promotions to better reflect the company-wide roles that its executive team members have played as well as to provide more opportunities for the next rank of executives.

But what is most amazing is the continuity of Chick-fil-A’s executive committee — which also includes Chick-fil-A’s founder, chairman and CEO, Truett Cathy.

“We have been together as a leadership team for more than 30 years,” Dan Cathy said in an interview. “We have all grown up together. It’s very unusual for a leadership team to stay together with this kind of stability and continuity. It is one of the reasons our business continues to perform as well as it does.”

The only real leadership change that occurred during those three decades was when Dan Cathy succeeded Jimmy Collins as the company’s president and COO in 2001.

“My whole approach to management and leadership was different,” Cathy said. “I knew I was going to be very dependent on senior vice presidents on issues of strategy, structure, products and markets. My philosophy has always been to have consensus and collaborative decision-making.“

The five new executive vice presidents are Donald “Bubba” Cathy, Perry Ragsdale, Steve Robinson, James “Buck” McCabe and Tim Tassopoulos.

“Over the last 10 years, particularly the last four to five years, their direct management areas began to be shared with other people,” Cathy said. “This is going to open up opportunities for people who have growing responsibilities in the VP ranks.”

By nurturing the “next ring of leadership,” Cathy said Chick-fil-A will continue to add management depth and skills to its team. “We are not much to look at individually,” Cathy said. “But we are great to look at together.”

A great year for Equifax

Ten shareholders — all retirees — came to the annual meeting of Equifax Inc. on May 3, where they heard an upbeat presentation from CEO Rick Smith.

Smith said 2011 “was a great year.” Despite not having much help from the economy, the company was able to grow its revenues by 8 percent. Smith said the company expects to continue to grow by at least that much in 2012 — which is significant for a 113-year-old company.

Smith, who has been CEO for nearly seven years, has now replaced nearly all of the 14-member leadership team.

“It’s the most talented [team] I’ve had in my business career,” Smith said. “They operate at a very high level as a team.”

Smith said his executive team is extremely diverse including people from different nationalities — Brazil, Argentina, India, Great Britain, Romania and Cuba. The board, however, does not have any African-Americans, something Smith said he would like to change.

Personally, Smith said that Atlanta has become his home. “Until we moved to Atlanta, the longest I had lived in one city was four years,” Smith said.

First and last at Newell

The change in leadership at Newell Rubbermaid Inc. was complete at its annual meeting May 8.

It was the first for Michael Polk as CEO (although he had served on its board since 2009). It also was the last for Mark Ketchum, who had served as Newell Rubbermaid’s CEO from October 2005 through June 2011.

After the meeting, Ketchum said he had mixed emotions to be stepping off the board but he is quite pleased with the direction of the company’s leadership.

“I think the transition is off to a great start,” Ketchum said. “It was a very comfortable transition because we knew Mike. He has made an immediate and positive impact. The company is in good hands.”

Personally, Ketchum said he will be putting his Atlanta home on the market, and he is building a home in Florida.

Polk has rented an apartment in Buckhead but he has not yet moved his family — his wife and seven children — because he doesn’t want to disrupt their lives.

Plus, he’s on the road for much of the time. After nearly 10 months as CEO, Polk said that “the more I’m into it, the more excited I am about our opportunities as a company.”

Missing Cousins

The founder of Cousins Properties Inc. — Tom Cousins — missed the real estate company’s 50th annual meeting on May 8. He is in Florida recovering from recent surgery.

Larry Gellerstedt, CEO since July 2009, reported progress is being made in the firm’s focus on office and retail projects, to own “trophy” buildings and to seek opportunistic investments.

Meanwhile, two directors did not stand for re-election — Erskine Bowles, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina, who co-chaired the Simpson-Bowles commission that made recommendations to reduce the national debt; and William Harrison, retired chairman of JPMorgan Chase.

After the meeting, Bowles applauded the work of U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss for being willing to tackle the debt problem in a bipartisan way.

“We are facing a huge economic cliff at the end of December,” Bowles said. “We better be doing some planning. With leaders like Saxby, we have a chance.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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