Ken Bernhardt: Honoring a 30-year Link to Chick-fil-A

‘Giv a skolarship’ to honor 30 years with Chick-fil-A
GSU professor marks three decades of work with Atlanta-based restaurant chain by endowing new marketing scholarship

Way before cows spelled poorly on billboards and other ads, Chick-fil-A sold almost exclusively through mall locations. To find out why sales were mixed, the Atlanta-based company turned to marketing expertise at Georgia State University.

Professor Ken Bernhardt, the marketing expert who answered that call 30 years ago, is now giving back to Chick-fil-A “in a very small way.” Last week, he awarded the first Chick-fil-A Outstanding Marketing Student Scholarship to rising GSU senior Emily Kimbell.

“How do you thank a $4 billion company whose president, Truett Cathy, has given more than 25,000 scholarships?” said Bernhardt, the Taylor E. Little Jr. Professor of Marketing at GSU. “My answer was to endow one more to the number each year in perpetuity. It’s my very small part of saying thanks.”

“Receiving the Chick-fil-A Outstanding Marketing Student Scholarship is certainly an honor,” said Kimbell, who also received scholarship funding through the Honors College and the Bill Lowery Endowed Scholarship. “I would encourage students to apply for the generous scholarships available at Georgia State University. It has alleviated the financial stress and just feels good to receive such an accolade.”

Through the Chick-fil-A scholarship, she got to have lunch at company headquarters and meet president and chief operating officer Dan Cathy, as well as Steve Robinson, senior vice president and chief marketing officer.

“I was able to talk with them about the success of Chick-fil-A; have lunch with the executives; and tour the facilities,” she said. “I enjoyed my visit and was encouraged by the work atmosphere at Chick-fil-A.”

The company’s support of higher education funding is symbolized at Georgia State by the “Climb with Care and Confidence” bronze arch that students pass through daily between Peachtree Street and campus facilities such as the Helen M. Aderhold Learning Center. The 1995 sculpture of climbing figures and stacks of books marked the 10,000 employee scholarships funded through $10 million from Chick-fil-A.

“I walk through there often,” said Bernhardt, who had not heard of Chick-fil-A when the company contacted him in 1980. The company, he said, had 35 employees and did $77 million in sales at the time. Chick-fil-A had never done a marketing research study, and tasked Bernhardt with finding out why some mall stores were not successful.

Bernhardt found that the non-thriving stores just didn’t have enough new customers. The key was getting people to taste Chick-fil-A for the first time. The company used the findings to create the “Taste it, You’ll Love it, For Good” campaign.

As Bernhardt continued to provide Chick-fil-A with consumer and operator research, and studies of customer loyalty, advertising and new products, he used those examples in his classes at the J. Mack Robinson School of Business. He taught GSU marketing students about some products that did not work; the value of a menu that changes with customer tastes; the importance of differentiating a company through customer experience.

“Part of Chick-fil-A’s corporate purpose is to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with their restaurants,” Bernhardt said. “This scholarship fits into that purpose.”

—By Michelle Hiskey; Contact Kim Cretors, (404) 413-3424