Rick Silva | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Rick Silva


Checkers & Rally's Restaurants Inc. has nearly 840 restaurants nationwide and recently embarked on an aggressive expansion campaign across the country after launching new building templates. The brand has been awarded several of the quick-service restaurant industry's most prestigious awards. In February 2012, CEO Rick Silva appeared in an Emmy-winning episode of the CBS reality show “Undercover Boss.”

The Mistake:

Before coming to Checkers and Rally’s, I’d spent 13 years at Burger King, so I thought I knew how to grow a QSR [quick-service] restaurant brand. I knew there were things that we’d have to do better but it wasn't until I really got into it and the company got into growth mode that I realized certain things were broken. For example, how we train. There was a lot of opportunity for improvement there.

When I did the “Undercover Boss” TV show, one of the things that came up was training, and that was a great learning moment for me. I really thought we had some good employee-training programs. But they needed to be improved, and that wasn’t apparent to me. 

When CBS came to us and wanted to put me on the show, at first I said no. And then when I realized the idea was to help and reward employees – because that's what the show's about, finding great employees and rewarding them – I said to myself, "You know, it's worthwhile."

Even so, I thought going on that show could be a huge mistake for my career. I'd never done anything like it, and I’m extremely uncomfortable being on camera. They put me in this goofy disguise and I felt like I couldn’t be myself. I was concerned ... because of how it might appear. I knew it was the right thing to do as a human being, as a leader, but I was worried that it might create some unintended, negative consequences for people. And if you watch the show, the moment I had to shut the restaurant down was bad.

I knew it was the right thing to do as a human being ...

The Lesson:

Out of very difficult or stressful moments – things we wouldn't normally put ourselves through – comes opportunity. Because of doing that show, I was able to see the chance we had to make things better for our employees, to help our employees, train them better, give them better opportunities.

And so all the pain, all the frustration, all the discomfort of being in front of a camera – which was horrific – it was all well worth the outcome. And the outcome was: First of all, I got to reward a bunch of employees for being wonderful people, which was amazing. That's part of the show. Also, several years later, we're still working on our training. We continue to improve and refine our training.

All the initial motivation came from “Undercover Boss.” We have a new learning management system that we've put into our restaurants. It’s next-level stuff that we're very proud of. And we improved our compensation program so that today every employee in all of our company restaurants and most of our franchise restaurants can qualify for a bonus ... based on the performance of the restaurant every single month.

And so, as a result of the show, and what I saw and I learned on it, every employee has a new motivation to earn a bonus. There were very difficult moments, certainly, but the rewards were fantastic, and I would never have gotten there had I not taken that risk. 

Follow Checkers & Rally’s Inc. on Twitter at @CheckersRallys.

Photo courtesy of No Limit Agency.

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