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No corporate in-house counsel saw her or his world turned upside down any faster or more severely because of the Covid-19 pandemic than CEC Entertainment CLO Rudy Rodriguez. The 600 Chuck E. Cheese and Peter Piper restaurants in 47 states were shut down within days last March, thousands of workers were furloughed and then came bankruptcy.
Mark Curriden, founder of The Texas Lawbook had a chance to chat with Rodriguez about his turbulent pandemic year.
To see Mark Curriden’s full profile of Rudy Rodriguez, CLICK HERE.
The Texas Lawbook: What surprised you most about the bankruptcy and restructuring process?
Rudy Rodriguez: I was somewhat surprised by the difficulty we had in renegotiating some of our vendor contracts and leases, as I had assumed that our ability to reject contracts would give us enough leverage to secure reasonable concessions from all of our contract counterparties. Nonetheless, on the whole we were very pleased and gratified by the cooperation and collaboration we experienced from the vast majority of our vendors and landlords, and I look forward to many years of productive and mutually beneficial relationships now that we are within sight of a more normal economy.
Lawbook: Howdo you choose outside counsel for your matters? What are the biggest factors?
Rodriguez: When choosing outside counsel, I look for someone who, him or herself or with their team, can provide excellent representation efficiently and cost-effectively. In my 30-year career, I’ve met and/or worked with excellent attorneys throughout the country, so if one of them cannot assist my company, I can always rely on my network for a good referral. I look for attorneys with significant experience handling the type of matter I have, and expect them to be willing to discuss entering into alternative fee arrangements when feasible.
Lawbook: How important is diversity in your selection of outside counsel?
Rodriguez: My network of outside counsel is very diverse – in my career I have worked with dozens of minority and women attorneys who have either been assigned to my matters by relationship counsel or whom I have gotten to know through my involvement in professional organizations. I always include diverse counsel in any selection process, and more often than not my outside counsel will either be led by a minority and/or female attorney or will include one or more such attorneys on the team.
Lawbook: What has been your best day working at CEC?
Rodriguez: This is a difficult question to answer, because I have had so many good days since Nov. 17, 2014, when I joined the company. I would say that any time I get to lead a town hall or visit one of our restaurants, I get tremendous satisfaction and feel so privileged to be a part of this team. But one moment stood out to me last year: In early May, I had the idea to ask our employees (including the thousands of furloughed employees around the country) to send in graduation-related photos. Over the next several weeks, I received dozens and dozens of photos – most were submitted by the grads themselves, but some were from parent-employees who were excited to show off their kids. Our marketing team put together a fantastic and beautiful video slideshow of all the photos, and it just showed the pride and hope that our tremendously diverse team maintained through one of the most difficult years in American history. That was a very good day.
Lawbook: Are you involved in any pro bono/public service matters?
Rodriguez: In 2014, I formed a 501(c)(3) public charity called the Denton High School Family Assistance Foundation, which provides financial assistance in the form of grants to current and former students, faculty, and staff of Denton High School in times of sudden and unexpected medical or other crises. There is much more information about the foundation at www.dentonhighcares.com; with a volunteer board comprised almost entirely of Denton High School alumni and the current principal of the school, we have distributed over $110,000 in grants during the life of the foundation, and I am very proud of what we have been able to do.
I am also currently on the board of directors and secretary of the Dallas Zoo Society; I’ve served on that Board since 2005.