Printed from

'Competitive' nature and a drive to succeed required; restaurant experience a plus

Posted On: Apr. 10, 2016 12:00 AM CST

Before joining Texas Roadhouse Inc., Patrick Sterling spent 10 years in leadership roles at Maryville, Tennessee-based Ruby Tuesday Inc., including heading its human resources and sales functions, and running human resources and other functions for Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based Piccadilly Restaurants L.L.C.

Mr. Sterling says he fell into the restaurant business. He graduated from Louisiana State University in 1987 with a degree in international trade and finance and had planned to become a hedge fund manager.

“When I graduated, the economy was in the tank,” Mr. Sterling said. “I had a family to support, and I had some friends who had done really well in the restaurant business, and the business appealed to me.”

Mark Simpson, vice president of legendary people who handles human resources for Texas Roadhouse, recruited Mr. Sterling to in 2004 to head human resources and risk management for the chain, which was on the verge of going public at that time.

Mr. Simpson was one of Mr. Sterling's Sigma Nu fraternity brothers at Louisiana State and worked with Mr. Sterling at Piccadilly. He recruited Mr. Sterling to Texas Roadhouse because, he said, Mr. Sterling had a strong understanding of the restaurant industry, as well as the needs of restaurant workers and guests.

Mr. Simpson said he trusted Mr. Sterling to build Texas Roadhouse's risk management program from scratch because Mr. Sterling's “competitive” nature and drive to succeed would prompt him to become a risk management expert within a year.

Although he had never led risk management efforts at other firms, Mr. Sterling believes his background in restaurant operations gave him a leg up in developing Texas Roadhouse's risk management program.

“If you look at risk management, so much of that is getting people to have the right behaviors,” he said. “If you understand what makes (restaurant employees and operators) tick, it certainly helps you have much more effective programs.”

Upon arriving at Texas Roadhouse, Mr. Sterling said he focused on creating a short-term plan that would target the “low-hanging fruit” for risks that needed to be managed. That included establishing 24/7 workers comp and liability claim intake, reducing basic safety hazards such as slips and falls in the restaurants and shopping around for lower property/casualty insurance rates.

“You have to get really good at claims, really good at crisis response, really good at your insurance renewal process,” Mr. Sterling said, before you can start thinking about things like enterprise risk management

Mr. Sterling said he learned risk management by reading and joining restaurant industry groups to study how major restaurant chains handled their risk management programs. He was mentored by Chris Duncan, then a managing director with Marsh Inc. in Atlanta and former chief risk officer for Delta Air Lines Inc. and risk management director for Frito-Lay Inc.

He joined restaurant industry groups to study how major restaurant chains, such as The Cheesecake Factory Inc., handled their risk management programs.

Since those early days, Mr. Sterling has expanded Texas Roadhouse's risk management program to a staff of 12 from a team of two and has added more complex insurance coverage and risk prevention strategies.

That includes buying cyber liability insurance, franchisor errors and omissions coverage for the chain's 83 franchised restaurants, and trade name restoration insurance, a Lloyd's of London product that would protect Texas Roadhouse profits in the event of a large-scale foodborne illness outbreak.

Mr. Sterling also brings all Texas Roadhouse's stakeholders into the risk management culture by establishing an enterprise risk management program that includes senior executives, Texas Roadhouse support center employees and restaurant operators.