Wise beyond his 21 years, Abram Waller uses his Chick-fil-A story.
When Abram Waller was a boy, his father, Don Moon, sometimes picked him up from school with cuts on his hands. These were markings from his job as a mechanic. When Waller inquired about the cuts, his soft-spoken father gently smiled and said, “I work hard for my family.”
Ingrained in Waller at a young age, that work ethic would only grow stronger after Moon passed away unexpectedly when Waller was 8 years old. The boy was left to carry on his father’s legacy.
So when 16-year-old Waller applied for a job at Chick-fil-A White Oak Village in Richmond, Virginia, he was ready to hustle. But he wasn’t prepared for what the job entailed. His first assignment: cleaning the walk-in freezer.
“I thought to myself, ‘Huh? I don’t want to work in a kitchen,’” recalls Waller, a high academic achiever.
“With My Whole Heart”
But Waller had just earned his driver’s license and inherited his father’s 1997 Dodge Avenger. The car reminded Waller of Moon, who cared for it like a baby. But after eight years, it needed new parts and service. Waller needed a job to pay for it.
Waller went to work, kneeling down, even scrubbing the undersides of the shelving. “Did someone tell you to do that?” his colleagues asked, “No one does that.”
“If I do something, I do it with my whole heart,” Waller recalls saying.
Waller soon became a kitchen leader. But because his interest was in hospitality, he arrived early and stayed late to study the menu and practice on the register.
Ten months later, he was promoted to certified trainer. Thirteen months later, he was promoted to team leader. Eight months later, he was promoted to supervisor. Five months later, he was promoted to assistant director of drive-thru operations. Two years later, he was promoted to director of operations. He was 21 years old.
A grateful Waller later posted a message on LinkedIn. “My heart is so full,” it began. “Five years ago, I begrudgingly accepted a position at Chick-fil-A as a kitchen employee…Little did I know I was making a decision that would change the very trajectory of my life…”
He wasn’t prepared for the response.
A Post Goes Viral
During quiet moments when he thinks of his father, Waller envisions Moon with his cut-up hands, but always smiling. One day, when young Waller was sad, Moon said, “Boy, smile. You don’t want people to think of you as a negative person.”
It was in that spirit that, Waller decided to write his uplifting post on LinkedIn. He wanted to share his story, intended for workers who may not yet see the full potential in their current jobs.
In the post, Waller explained that he accepted the kitchen job at Chick-fil-A because he needed money for gas and to take care of his car. But the position ultimately taught him business fundamentals and allowed him to help others. “In a world filled with uncertainty,” he wrote, “we can control how we impact someone else’s life in a positive or negative way.”
Waller expected a couple of his friends to like the post, at best.
Instead, it went viral—viewed 13 million times, generating 7,300 comments and 240,000 reactions. Strangers have reached out with gratitude and well wishes.
As to how his dad might have reacted, Waller says he has no doubt: “He’d just fold his arms, and smile.”
Road to Operator
While working the drive-thru, Waller focused on connecting personally with guests; once he comforted a tearful woman going through a divorce. Six months later, she returned in good spirits and thanked Waller for his sympathetic ear.
“Everyone has a story,” says the 21-year-old. “At the drive-thru, we’re not trying to push 100 cars through. We’re trying to have 100 moments of care.” (And actually, it’s more than that—two years into his role as assistant director of drive-thru operations, the lunch-hour average jumped from 100 to 150 customers a day.)
After becoming the first in his family to enroll in college, Waller continued working full-time. He won back-to-back $2,500 Chick-fil-A scholarships, and eventually, he wants to become a Chick-fil-A franchise Operator.
“He has more passion and heart than most people could only dream to have,” says Operator Greg Williams, Waller’s boss.
Ask Waller, though, and he’ll say he simply applies the lessons Williams taught him five years ago. “We want to develop people into the best versions of themselves, with balanced lives,” he says. “Someone gave me that opportunity when I was 16, and every day I get the opportunity to do that for someone else.”