Vice President, Risk Services
The Cheesecake Factory
Risk Manager Walks the Walk
Instead of ordering a new claims-allocation system, Kurt Leisure taught his managers to think about claims, and instill in them that safety and claims can be controlled.
Kurt Leisure has been in the restaurant business for 25 years, the last 12 at The Cheesecake Factory, where he is vice president, risk services. If you ask him for evidence of his success, he's liable to talk to you about shoes.
To be specific, the company's slip-resistant shoe program is part of a unique claims-allocation program developed and implemented by Leisure. It has led to a 78 percent drop in the cost of risk over a seven-year period. Other elements of the program include a nurse triage program, highly customized safety training, and reporting claims within 24 hours.
Most significantly, Leisure has involved employees at every level in learning about and adopting the program, and creating a system of rewards for participation. The success of this program was significant for Leisure: "That's telling me that we found a good solution and we have buy-off from everyone from the dishwasher up to the management."
Leisure also has supporters throughout the restaurant industry, including Patrick Sterling, director of risk and administration at Texas Roadhouse. Sterling met Leisure through his involvement in industry groups. "I quickly realized he's a leader. You could tell the way folks respect him. I thought, 'I gotta get to know this guy'; I sought him out," Sterling said. Leisure has become a mentor to him, generous with guidance and advice, and his claims-allocation program has been a model for Sterling's own.
Sterling admires Leisure's grasp of how the industry works. "He understands the business very well and knows how to get programs in place. Restaurant operators are very entrepreneurial. Part of being a smart and successful risk manager is knowing your culture. You can't necessarily flip a switch--sometimes it takes two to three years to change culture. Kurt gets that very well."
Leisure has taken a step-by-step approach to implementing new safety programs, making sure to have companywide support. "Risk management was new to when I came into the organization twelve years ago. Some risk managers take a machine gun approach,'' he said. "I'd be a complete failure if I didn't have buy-off in my operations teams in the programs I push down to them. I'm careful what I do push down and I make sure it works. Our program is complicated and has a lot of moving pieces. Most off-the-shelf things don't work in our operations."
Leisure's long-term goal was to instill a new mindset that safety and claims are not just a cost of business, and that claims can be prevented and costs controlled. Rather than jumping in with a new claims-allocation system, he started by teaching a new way to think about claims. "First here's how to prevent claims from happening. Next, here's how to mitigate when it happens. I set them up for success," he said.
Leisure stresses what's distinct about The Cheesecake Factory. "If you look at the culture of our restaurant, our differentiator is service. You expect something and we deliver way over and beyond,'' he said. "If you drop a fork, we present you with a new one on a silver platter and you think, 'Wow, Is this the Ritz Carlton?' '' The emphasis on excellent service was applied to the claims process.
September 15, 2011
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