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Business Observer Friday, May 15, 2015 3 years ago

Entrepreneurs of the Year | Rick Silva

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Checkers Drive-In Restaurants Inc., Tampa
by: Michael Hinman Tampa Bay Reporter

Why we chose him:
When Rick Silva took over Checkers Drive-In Restaurants Inc. as its CEO in 2007, business was sliding.

After 15 years of public trading, a Wellspring Capital Management affiliate had just taken Checkers private. But not before the company posted its lowest revenues since 2002, along with a waning profit.

Silva -- a 13-year veteran of the much larger Burger King fast food chain -- turned not toward rapid expansion of Checkers and Rally's 800 restaurants, but instead toward an overhaul, beginning with the menu.

“We put together focus groups every two weeks in our R&D center here in Tampa,” Silva, 49, says. “We made a point to figure out what was important to our customers, and not be afraid to try something new.”

Checkers might still champion its Big Buford hamburger or its chili cheese hot dogs, but has since added new menu items like chicken wings, a Philly sub and even shrimp.

“Folks that use fast food the most tend to be younger with changing lifestyles and evolving tastes,” Silva says. “What might have worked a few years ago may not still work today.”

Silva also centralized operations of the restaurants, which before were more a loose confederation of locations, each with its own management structure. Part of that came through a computer network it developed and modified that used hourly sales predictions to help managers schedule the right number of employees in the kitchen.

“We did time-motion studies to figure out how long it takes to make every single product we sell,” Silva says. “We then took that information, combined it with past sales data, and it created a new way for us to schedule labor.”

Over the last five years, annual revenue at each restaurant was boosted by an average of $150,000.

Yet, Silva shies away from taking too much credit for Checkers' turnaround.

“You can't do all that by yourself,” he says. “I put people around me who are much smarter than I am. They are so damn smart, they make me better every day.”

Growth
Revenues
2012: $696.9 million
2013: $723.4 million
up 3.9%
2014: $756.1 million
up 4.5%

Employees
2012: 5,968
2013: 6,259
2014: 6,687

- Michael Hinman

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