The Serious Business of Pizza Parties

The legalities behind play zones, birthday celebrations, and the world’s second-most-famous cartoon mouse

Rudy Rodríguez, Jr. is no stranger to handling sensitive matters for large corporations. Prior to his current role, Rodríguez was on leading legal teams handling complex matters for household-name clients such as American Airlines and J.C. Penney. But now, the general counsel and corporate secretary for CEC Entertainment—parent company of Chuck E. Cheese’s and Peter Piper Pizza—has taken on an entirely different set of challenges.

In his first year on the job, originally one of a legal-department staff of three, Rodríguez’s responsibilities grew to include oversight of the company’s Risk Management and Internal Audit departments. He now supervises a legal team that has multiplied by more than five times
in size.

The general counsel’s growing portfolio includes oversight of a more comprehensive range of issues than he has ever handled before: HR policies and standards, state and municipal regulations, contract management, cybersecurity, and Sarbanes-Oxley compliance. It has also meant a great deal of on-the-job training for new duties such as corporate governance, managing relationships with board members, SEC reporting, and membership on the senior leadership team.

“The fact that I have more responsibility, less of a safety net, and am constantly facing new challenges is very different from past positions, but this is truly much more fun,” Rodríguez says. “It’s invigorating to be involved in so many different areas not just as a lawyer, but as a business advisor as well.”

Despite the added pressures inherent to such a spike in responsibilities, Rodríguez is comfortable working with CEC’s business units and enjoys playing a part in strategic decision-making at the highest levels. “It’s rewarding to be engaged in the planning and development of various projects and to see them come to fruition,” he says.

Compliance and Training Initiatives

In 2015, his first year with CEC, Rodríguez developed a compliance program for adhering to the company’s long-standing code of business ethics, as well as a related enterprise-wide training program. He is also working closely with the company’s information-technology group on cybersecurity and data-breach prevention issues.

“I quickly realized how involved legal has to be to help make response planning and preparation effective,” Rodríguez points out, regarding the company’s data-security imperatives. “After all, these days it’s not a matter of ‘if,’ but ‘when’ a company will face a cybersecurity incident. So, as a company, we have to keep awareness high and make every effort to be as prepared as possible for that
eventuality.”

Rodríguez’s business-ethics training initiative has already been rolled out throughout the company and includes training for senior leadership, district managers, and store general managers. It will ultimately be presented to approximately 650 individuals. Additional video and webinar modules are slated for completion in the near future to ensure that training is accessible to everyone regardless of location.

From Rodríguez’s standpoint, this kind of comprehensive training on the codes, regulations, and policies that affect all areas of CEC’s business will enable the company to proactively avoid future regulatory, legal, and policy issues.

Ultimately, It’s All For the Kids

Because of its unique family-entertainment market, CEC has a culture that’s more “fun-focused” than other billion-dollar corporations. The difference, according to Rodríguez, is that while retail, transportation, and other adult-focused businesses want customers to be pleased with their service, they are not necessarily trying to create happy, lifelong memories.

Rodríguez’s endeavor also comes with a much higher focus on customer safety.

“Aside from the quality and cleanliness of our restaurants, our top concern is for the safety of parents’ most treasured assets: their children. So, while coming up with new ways to delight and entertain them makes our jobs more enjoyable, one of our top priorities is avoiding mishaps while they are our guests,”
Rodríguez says.

This concern was the impetus for Chuck E. Cheese’s “Kid Check” program, for example, which uses a unique hand stamp, visible only under ultra-violet light, to verify that children leave with the same adults they came in with.

“Aside from the quality and cleanliness of our restaurants, our top concern is for the safety of parents’ most treasured assets: their children.”

 Rudy Rodríguez, Jr.

Moving Forward

For CEC, Rodríguez expects his ongoing focus to remain on strengthening compliance, enterprise risk management, and maintaining vigilance against cyber threats. He plans to continuously update the training program in order to keep the content fresh, engaging, and top-of-mind for the entire staff.

Guided by an awareness that an in-house legal department is not a revenue-generating unit, Rodríguez  feels a responsibility to deliver as much value as possible by prioritizing clients and delivering counsel as promptly and accurately as possible.

“Every time I am presented with a new issue, I want to learn it inside and out to become a more knowledgeable and valuable general counsel. I’m never complacent, and I’m always looking for opportunities to learn and grow.”