Humility is a word we hear and use frequently without much thought.

What is humility?

You may not see it often, but you will recognize it when you do.  This story is an example.

It was New Year’s Eve 1978 and we had much to celebrate at Chick-fil-A as 1979 rolled in. In ‘78 we opened thirty-one new restaurants and operated in more than 100 locations!  Not only that, chain-wide sales were up an astonishing 53%!

Was Everybody Happy?  Yeah, Man!

Everyone looked forward to meeting in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, for our Annual Operators Seminar to motivate everyone to do it again!

Why Ocho Rios? Truett Cathy, our CEO and owner, picked this location because he had taken his family there on vacation and wanted to return for our annual Operators Seminar. For this event, Truett covered all travel, lodging, meals, and entertainment expenses for the franchisees and their spouses along with many of the home office support staff. This annual business meeting was designed to review the past year’s performance and unveil the plans for the coming year.

Truett insisted we host the seminar in a hotel on the beach in Ocho Rios.  A quick search revealed only one hotel with the capacity to hold 300+ people.    That was when the easy job became the impossible task.

Dan Cathy and I went to check out the Hilton Hotel … on the beach in Ocho Rios.  It was beautiful but old, and … even with every room there were not rooms for all of us.  We reserved every room in the hotel.  To accommodate some of our home office support staff, we had to also rent several nearby villas to permit all the franchisees to be conveniently located in one location.

We chose to house some of the home office support staff off-site because the Operators Seminar, as Truett insisted, was an event designed for our franchisees.  Members of the home office staff attended the annual event to serve the franchisees. 

Included in the total room count of the hotel was the Presidential Suite.  We also reserved it as a nice surprise for Truett and Jeannette.  

There was a little problem.  The suite was occupied, and we could not go inside, and there were no pictures available.  Our hostess told us that it was the hotel’s best with a large parlor and dining area, with large windows overlooking the beach, and it had two bedrooms.  Since the suite had two rooms, rather than take a room near Truett’s as I usually did, I took the second room in the suite.

Shortly before we arrived, the hotel advised us that some of their guests had decided not to leave before we were scheduled to check-in. That meant we would not have all of the hotel rooms.  We scrambled to locate nearby alternative accommodations for more of our support staff.

On the day we arrived, my wife, Oleta and I postponed going to our room to stay in the lobby so we could greet our guests, the franchisees, and their spouses as they arrived.  After all of them checked in, we went to take a look at the suite we had never seen.

The suite was beautiful!  

A large inviting well-furnished parlor, a beautiful dining area, and huge windows overlooking the beach.  Oleta and I went into our room and were awed by its large size and beauty. There were more windows overlooking the beach and a fabulous bathroom with a wall of mirrors.

If our room looked like this, we wondered how Truett and Jeannette’s looked.  We had a key and went across the parlor to take a peek.

When we opened the door … we were absolutely stunned!

The room was tiny … with no windows … and no bathroom!

The hotel was old and the room must have originally been used as a bedroom for a servant traveling with the occupant of the suite.  The bathroom was next door … in the parlor.

Someone on the hotel staff must have mistaken me for the chief executive and had me assigned the premium room.  Possibly that happened because I had visited the facility and had done all of the negotiating for Chick-fil-A.   

When Oleta saw what had happened, she said, “We can’t leave them in here.”  Even though Truett and Jeannette had already unpacked, we moved all of their things and exchanged rooms.

When finished, we went to find Truett and Jeannette to tell them that they had been assigned the wrong room.

Before leaving the suite, I was stopped by a phone call from a franchisee. He called me to express his extreme disappointment with his room assignment. He said the view from his window looked out over a parking lot and he wanted to be relocated to an ocean-view room.  He said the front desk told him no other rooms were available and only I had the authority to require someone to exchange rooms.

When I told him he could not be moved, he was agitated, upset.  He said, “I am the highest performing Operator and deserve a premium room.”

I did understand how he felt.  He was one of our highest performing Operators, but for him to move someone in a beachfront room would have to have to exchange with him.  I told him I was not willing to do that.  It was not the answer he wanted to hear.

Oleta and I found Truett and Jeannette in the hotel dining room.  We told them they had been assigned the wrong room.  They were supposed to be in the one across the parlor, and that all of their things had been moved to that room.

Truett said, “You didn’t need to move us.  There was nothing wrong with that room.”  Jeannette added, “It is all right.”

Truett was the host!  He was paying the bill for everyone there, all 300 plus of us!  He and Jeannette never even questioned or expressed concern about being assigned a room with no window to view the beach and no bathroom!

What is humility?

That is humility!

Jimmy Collins

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The stories I tell are true and from my real-life experiences. I never use actual names without permission. Where appropriate, names have been changed to protect individual privacy.