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Mitch Roberts, SM '92

Christopher Reichert, MOT ’04, talks with Mitch Roberts, SM ’92, about his life as a restaurateur. They also discuss obstacles Mitch has had to overcome in his career and the lessons from his classes at MIT Sloan that he still uses in his work.

Sloanies Talking with Sloanies is a conversational podcast with alumni and faculty about the MIT Sloan experience and how it influences what they're doing today. Subscribe and listen on Apple Podcasts, Google, and Spotify

Christopher Reichert: Welcome to Sloanies Talking with Sloanies, a candid conversation with alumni and faculty about the MIT Sloan experience and how it influences what they're doing today. So, what does it mean to be a Sloanie? Over the course of this podcast, you'll hear from guests who are making a difference in their community, including our own very important one here at Sloan. I'm your host, Christopher Reichert.

Hi, I'm Christopher Reichert.

Mitch Roberts: And I'm Mitchell Roberts.

Christopher Reichert: And welcome to Sloanies Talking with Sloanies about ideas that matter. Thanks for joining us today.

Mitch Roberts: It's my pleasure.

Christopher Reichert: So welcome to the 11th in our series. Tell us a bit about your background and what you're doing these days.

Mitch Roberts: Sure. I call myself a restaurant-eur, although that might sound a little grandiose. I am a Panera Bread franchisee. I own and operate about 63 restaurants in the Northeast, principally in Massachusetts and then Maine and New Hampshire. And I've been doing it now for 22 years. So out of Sloan 27 or so years, and in the restaurant business essentially all 27 years, but 22 years on my own.

Christopher Reichert: So how did you get into it? So you left Sloan and got a job at a restaurant, with your MBA?

Mitch Roberts: Not exactly. I had a wonderful plan in coming back to Sloan. I had been in the real estate development world, and while I enjoyed and learned, it was during a very tough time and I was on a project as a leasing guy, not leasing very much. So it wasn't a wonderful experience, and I learned very quickly that the real estate world is very project oriented, something starch, you build it, you lease it, you sell it, and you're done and then you need another project. And I really was attracted to the concept of an operating company, a continuum, something where you were dealing with either continual product development or people development or business development, something that didn't just start and end. So I came to Sloan specifically because I wanted to be in technology. I thought, “Wouldn't it be wonderful to be involved with computers or software?” And keep in mind when I entered in 1990, it was pre-internet. It was pre “.com”. We didn't have email as students at Sloan. So the idea was simply move into technology because technology was an exciting future. And we got here, and—I say “we” because my wife and I were classmates together—we were one of three married couples where both spouses were in the class. It was great actually. She made me a much better student than I had been in prior times. We got here and had a wonderful first year and realized our ambition by both landing jobs in California tech companies. She went to work for Apple, and I went to work for Intel and had terrific summers and lived in the Bay area in Cupertino. And each weekend traveled someplace three or four hours away from Cupertino and had a wonderful experience in California.

At the end of the summer, we had that classic end of summer dinner with the boss and spouses pitch. And his name was Avraham and he said, “Mitch, we'd love you to join us. Please come back, but don't rush. Call us in October or November and we'll arrange for your start in June.”

Christopher Reichert: And what year was this?

Mitch Roberts: This would've been the fall of ‘91 because I graduated the spring of ‘92. So I said “thank you.” And we came back to Boston for our second year at Sloan and it was a perfect Boston fall. It was sunny, it was crisp, the colors were beautiful and we looked at each other and we said, "We're never going to be Californians. We could go there for a year or two or three, but we're coming back to these coasts. So why mess around? Let's just find a job here and start our lives together here.” We celebrated our first anniversary as first years at Sloan. This was very early in the relationship.

Christopher Reichert: Did you regret that decision in February?

Mitch Roberts: No, no, I grew up in New England, so I'm a skier and have always loved the winter. And my wife grew up in Upstate New York where the winters are serious, so she wasn't afraid of snow either. And we really thought of New England as our home. So when it came time to find that job, I went through all the standard interviews that everyone at the time went through, the McKinsey interviews and a couple of investment banks in New York and none of it really seemed very exciting. And a friend of the family who happened to work at a local restaurant company called Au Ban Pain called and said the chairman's looking for an assistant. So I went through this interview process with Au Ban Pain and they made me an offer to be the assistant to the chairman.

I went to see a visiting scholar here that I had taken a class from, a gentleman named Maurice Segall who taught a class called Retail Strategy or Strategies and Retailing, I think it was Retail Strategy. And he had been, before being a scholar at Sloan, he had been chairman of Zero Corp, he had been chairman of American Express and basically his course was bringing in his buddies from American Express or American Airlines, a bunch of different boards that he sat on to speak to the class.

Christopher Reichert: Great firsthand experience.

Mitch Roberts: It was exciting. So I went to see professor Segall, and I said, “I've got this job offer. The money's fine. It's assistant to the chairman. I don't know what it is.” He said, “It's a good job, Mitch, just don't do it for more than two years.” So I said, “great.” I said, “This sounds like good advice.” And we had a condominium that we owned and a mortgage and a job was important. So I took the job, and I went to work and all of a sudden I was in the restaurant business.

Christopher Reichert: Were they based here? Au Ban Pain?

Mitch Roberts: At the time they were based in Boston. It had been a company that had gone public a year prior to my arriving, so they were in the throes of being very exciting and aggressively growing and I knew them because every morning before class at Sloan there was an Au Ban Pain in Kendall Square that I'd go and I'd get my corn muffin and a cup of coffee.

Christopher Reichert: Is that the same one that's there now? The same location on the corner?

Mitch Roberts: The same one, same location. Although it might be closed now, we're about to close.

Christopher Reichert: Because they're renovating the building, right?

Mitch Roberts: Yes, right.

Christopher Reichert: Maybe you know something that we don't know.

Mitch Roberts: Yes, it's just going away.

Christopher Reichert: Wow, that’s amazing because that one has had generations of Sloanies go through there.

Mitch Roberts: Right, so I figured if I liked the muffins and I liked the coffee, what else do I need to know? So I ended up spending a total of seven and a half years at Au Ban Pain. And I did work for the chairman for about two years. That job was fascinating. It was anything that hit his desk that he didn't really want to do, he simply handed to me. So sometimes that meant junk. Carry my briefcase that type of stuff. And sometimes it meant go to Harvard square and negotiate with the homeless coalition because they want to sell Christmas wreaths on the patio of the Au Ban Pain at Harvard square. And we need someone to go and make a deal with them.

Christopher Reichert: That was a legendary one as well, right? That one only closed five years ago.

Mitch Roberts: It was legendary.

Christopher Reichert: The chess tables out front—was that one of the early ones?

Mitch Roberts: Number seven.

Christopher Reichert: Number seven. And the one at Kendall Square was in that range as well?

Mitch Roberts: A little later. But yes. So nonetheless, I'm in the restaurant business all of a sudden, and I quickly evolved into a real estate component because the chairman was the real estate guy, so I was his right hand guy. Therefore, I was a real estate guy. And over the course of a couple of years, I started to learn about what it took to put together a deal for a restaurant. The real magic though was the fact that there were co-chairman of the company, a guy named Louis Kane, who I worked directly for and his partner Ron Shaich. And Ron has gone on to a lot of fame and fortune and was chairman and CEO of Panera bread for many, many years. Several years ago he sold that to a private investment firm, and now he's onto other things. But the magic was that I would go and make a real estate deal. Lou would say, "Great, let's do it." And Ron would say, "No, we're not doing that deal; it's too expensive." And not knowing any better, I would just go back to the landlord and say, "Sorry, I thought I made a deal with you, but I didn't. My chairman rejected it." And the deal would get better.

Christopher Reichert: Right. So good cop, bad cop.

Mitch Roberts: And it was an eye opening experience for me. I was like, "Wait, there’s room in deals? I’d think I made a good deal, and then there's more room.” And it was maybe the most valuable post Sloan education I received, this notion that a deal is not necessarily a deal until it's signed and, in my view, opened. And that what people say they're willing to do is not necessarily what will actually make them happy in the end.

Christopher Reichert: It's a constant negotiation. All the way to the end.

Mitch Roberts: It's knowing to leave the last nickel on the table, but to get all the way there. I don't think you ever want to leave somebody in pain. They have to make a profit on their end as well, but it doesn't mean they have to make a lot of profit on you. And so that was a terrific experience.

Christopher Reichert: And I see you were a franchisee for El Pollo Loco, early franchisee. Relatively early, they came with a boom, 10, 12 years ago—

Mitch Roberts: Well, what happened is we first became franchisees of Panera bread. That was early when we signed our documents, there were 57 Paneras in the country, in the world, I guess. Today there are about 2200. I would love to attest to great brilliance and insight, but I think frankly, we got lucky. We happened to be in the right place. They knew us personally because it was at that point owned by Au Ban Pain, and nobody else wanted it.

Christopher Reichert: Then this whole fast casual sector hadn't really emerged?

Mitch Roberts: It didn't exist. If it was going to be fast, it was going to be not good for you. And if it was going to be good for you, it was going to be expensive and slow. And so Panera really created this concept that, look, we can serve good food quickly. Au Ban Pain had done it to some degree, but on a pretty limited basis and really on the bakery platform. And Panera came in and saw a bigger niche and something that went beyond urban areas, which is really what Au Ban Pain specialized in.

Christopher Reichert: They were urban, cause I remember that in Philadelphia. In the early—

Mitch Roberts: Philly, Chicago, New York and Boston, but not in Newton Weston and Wellesley.

Christopher Reichert: When I walked by them. It's very tasty when you go in, but I'm thinking this has been here so long, and the market has changed so much. New players, new models, new menu structures and whatnot, and somehow Au Ban Pain has survived. But you're indicating that maybe not so strongly, is that— 

Mitch Roberts: Well, Au Ban Pain is actually owned by Panera bread now, and they're going through a rationalization of real estate. I guess that would be the most proper way to put it. But we became franchisees when there were 57 units, mostly because there were no other takers. So we were under financed and under experienced. And since there was no other demand, they sold it to us. And so we ended up becoming the franchisees for essentially the Northern half of New England. Three out of the six States of New England and started by building one store and growing from there.

Christopher Reichert: Which was your first one?

Mitch Roberts: First store was in Framingham, Massachusetts. Still there—

Christopher Reichert: Off Route 9?

Mitch Roberts: Right on route 30, next to the Target now. Used to be a Filene’s Basement Lechmere. In fact, when we signed our deal there, it was Filene’s Basement at one end and Lechmere at the other.

Christopher Reichert: What is that besides a T stop?

Mitch Roberts: Do you remember Lechmeres?

Christopher Reichert: No,I arrived in 2002.

Mitch Roberts: Oh Lechmere was a general goods... I don't even know how to describe it. It was a predecessor to Best Buy/Target. You could buy a little of everything but not much of anything.

Christopher Reichert: A large general store.

Mitch Roberts: Basically, but specialized in electronics. We signed our lease there in Framingham. Lechmere declared bankruptcy. We started construction on our store, Filene’s Basement declared bankruptcy. So here we are about to open in a mall where the two anchors both were either in bankruptcy or gone.

Christopher Reichert: That's got to be scary.

Mitch Roberts: It was terrifying. So we had nothing else to do but open. So we opened. And just to give you a sense, the average Panera today does about $55,000 to $57,000 a week. Our first week in business in Framingham, we did $9,000. The average back then was about $21,000. So we did $9, and we looked at each other—my partner David and I—and said, “Okay, we can always get a job.” That was our general view. We're employable. And all of the investors, most of whom shared our last names would just have to take a loss, and we'd all move on.

Christopher Reichert: Right, the friends and family.

Mitch Roberts: But each week it got a little better. And after about four months we're like, 'Yes, this is good."

Christopher Reichert: This is sustainable.

Mitch Roberts: This is going to work. And then Target bought that center and tore it down around us, literally built a retaining wall around our store and tore everything else down. Put construction fence everywhere. And customers kept coming in, and they would say, "Guys, we wish you luck. We hope you make it." And this went on for about two years while they rebuilt the entire center.

Christopher Reichert: What year was this?

Mitch Roberts: Must've been right around 2000, 2001 somewhere in that timeframe. And then we built a second store cause the first store worked and then we just kept going.

Christopher Reichert: So was there any threat of other people buying Panera franchises that might—

Mitch Roberts: So in our exclusive, pretty standard franchise type of language, we bought a territory. So we were the developer of an area, and we had the rights to build the brand so long as we kept pace. So we had an agreement to build a certain number of units in a certain time frame. So as long as we kept pace, we were good. And that's what we did. And our goal by the way, was very simple. We were both in corporate jobs, we both had families. He's a little older than I am. So his family was a little older. I think we had just had maybe our second child—would have been our second child—and we figured if we built a dozen stores, it would be enough to support the two families. That was really the goal.

Mitch Roberts: 12, 13 stores takes care of the two families, educate the kids, lifestyle is okay. That was it. That was really all we wanted. There was no build a brand, build an organization, create something really much beyond that. But once we got going, and we got past the early stages, which were without question, the most difficult time. I feel like I have endless stories about those most difficult times. I do recall at one moment, one of the things I did at Intel that summer was I was responsible for helping install a new software system that had come from Lotus called Lotus Notes, and Intel was a beta user. And I was the kid at Intel, “Figure this thing out, how can we use it?” Literally, that was my summer job. So I was working in the development area of Intel, the corporate development area, business development. So I'm playing with this thing, and part of it was reading a lot, and I'm reading. I knew nothing about technology. I'm reading all these tech mags, and this company kept being talked about—every magazine, it didn't seem to matter—called Microsoft. So I said, “I’ve got to know more about this Microsoft Company.” I start to investigate it and I had a sister who worked on Wall Street, and I called her and said, "Val, how do I buy stock in this Microsoft Company?" And she said, "Well don't buy stock. Do it on paper and see how it goes for a couple of weeks." So I did, and it looked like it was going to be okay. I said, "Okay, I want to buy now." She goes, "Okay, set up a Charles Schwab account, do this, do that, you'll be fine." So I had like $10,000 maybe. I'm unsure I had that much. And so on day one, I bought Microsoft—maybe $2,000, and I want to say it was at $110 a share and the next day it went to $105, so I called her, and I said, “what should I do?” She said, "You believe in it?" I said, "Yes, it's in all these magazines." She said, "You should buy more." So on day two, I bought $2,000 more at $105. On day three it went to a $100.

Christopher Reichert: So you're doing dollar cost averaging without realizing it.

Mitch Roberts: I had no idea what I was doing. So I called her, I said, “It went to a hundred.” She goes, "Do you believe in the company?" I said, “Yes.” She goes, "You should buy some more." So I bought $2,000 more and that was it by the way, I was done. I had nothing left. So that's $6,000 bucks I invested in Microsoft, ended up becoming my seed capital. Five years later when I started my company.

Christopher Reichert: Well, I have to say this causes me great pain because I had a similar story where I graduated from college, and I had some student loans and my mother said, "Here's the cash for your student loans. You can pay off the student loans or you can invest it. You decide." I said, "I think I'll invest it." So there were two companies that I considered. One was called Tandon Computers, and they had a huge contract to sell five and a quarter inch drives to IBM. I thought, “IBM, it can't go wrong with that.” And there was this other company called Microsoft—I don’t know. So I put in $10,000 in Tandon, and it exploded. It was worth $20,000 and six months later, I thought, “I'm such a winner.” Anyway, they went bankrupt, and IBM canceled the contract about two years later. And I still have the certificates, those fancy certificates you got for stock. And I've done the math and had I invested in Microsoft at it's peak, It would have been worth something like $30–$40 million. Ouch.

Mitch Roberts: The more relevant thing for my investment was not just the seed capital, but about two years into the business when we didn't have enough cash in the bank to make payroll, I wrote a check to the company to cover payroll. I was working a day job at the time. I had stayed at Au Ban Pain for the first two years of our company when we started it because we didn't have enough to cover both my part and my overhead. And so I would do my day job and then come home, and then I would do the books at night, and he was doing whatever he did at night, business-related. We would use AOL instant messaging to talk to each other at night while the kids were in bed at 10 o'clock at night. But literally, we ran out of money. Couldn't make payroll, and I had to write a check, and I was able to write the check because of the proceeds from that Microsoft investment.

Christopher Reichert: That's great.

Mitch Roberts: So one of the fringe benefits of being at Sloan was having a good summer job, got exposed to new things that I hadn't been exposed to, which resulted in a good investment.

Christopher Reichert: And how to think it through right? And get some good advice.

Mitch Roberts: Exactly.

Christopher Reichert: So I've always been curious about the franchise model. How much control does the parent organization have over the look and feel and the products that you have on the menu, and how it all operates? I know McDonald's was very precise about their sugar packets and the brand of ketchup and marketing and things like that. So how does that work with Panera?

Mitch Roberts: It works pretty much the same way. And I would argue any—and I've now been involved with three different franchise organizations—I would argue what makes a franchise powerful, what makes a brand powerful, is the consistency. So franchisors that don't exert control are making mistakes. Now, whether or not they need to define the sugar packet, that may be a level of detail beyond where the consumer cares. But it's the concept that we've developed the best practice and the right thing for our customer. Now you deliver it, execute the hell out of this, and you'll deliver it well. Panera's taken that approach, and as we've grown together—there were 57 units when we signed on, not a sophisticated group. Today, they're over 2,000, a very sophisticated group, and the franchise owners—there are only 28 of us—are also very sophisticated people.

So it's not a battle. It's actually a mutual agreement, and we sometimes come up with stuff that's better than what they're doing, and they look at it and sometimes with great joy and sometimes reluctantly, they'll incorporate it.  Then that becomes the new best practice and gets rolled out nationwide. So it's terrific. We do veer off the menu occasionally, regionally. So as an example, we sell a lobster roll. We sell a lot of lobster rolls, by the way, and it's a terrific product. But if you're in a Panera in Atlanta, you're not getting a lobster roll.

Christopher Reichert: But you might get something local there.

Mitch Roberts: You'll get sweet tea, which we're not selling to you up here.

Christopher Reichert: So the scaling side of things—you probably know the Flynn Restaurant Group.

Mitch Roberts: I know Greg very well.

Christopher Reichert: When I was researching you, I found an interesting side story on this. I was looking at that guy. He told the story about how his father had a McDonald's in San Francisco when he a child. Learned the business there. And I said, "I wonder if he's the brother of my college girlfriend." So I texted her, and I said, "Is this your brother?" And she said, "Absolutely." I said, "Wow, he is a bit of a beast in the franchising thing." He's what, the largest franchisor? Restaurant franchisor?

Mitch Roberts: Largest franchisee in the country.

Christopher Reichert: That's amazing. I was curious about the scaling. So you went from one and you grew, and you're comfortable with your 65, 67 is it?

Mitch Roberts: We're at 63 today, and we're growing, but we took a different model than Greg. So first of all, Greg is a very talented guy, very smart, terrific, thoughtful, done really well. Not by luck. He's really—

Christopher Reichert: Aggressive in his expansion.

Mitch Roberts: Very aggressive. But he's somewhat, I would think of Greg in some way as a fund manager in restaurants. He has raised capital from outside investors—substantial capital—and he operates, essentially, a fund investing in large franchise restaurants and operating them, not just simply arm’s length. He's not passive by any means. He is an aggressive, excellent operator. We raised extremely little capital, so we own our company—lock, stock, and barrel—and it's a different approach. I have no complaints about what Greg has done. He has been an enormous success by any measurement, and so he has taken a different approach that required scale. If you had done what he did and only built 60 restaurants, your investors would be wondering what you're doing all day.

Christopher Reichert: So you don't have to worry about that aspect. Have you thought about other products, say Dunkin Donuts franchise or other franchises generally?

Mitch Roberts: Yes, we were franchisees of a concept called El Pollo Loco out of California, a Mexican chicken. We did it because we saw it as a future movement in the country between Hispanic foods. There's an enormous influence in pop culture from a Hispanic culture, from music, from products, from fashion, and we just thought that food was an obvious next step. We were perhaps a bit early in terms of bringing it to the Northeast where the most Hispanic thing you can get is Chipotle. And my partner who grew up in LA has forever complained about the lousy Mexican food in New England. In fairness, I think he's right. We loved El Pollo Loco because of the quality, and we saw a lot of things in it that we saw in Panera. Fresh protein, never frozen, marinated on site, flame grilled on site, healthier, not fried, all of the sauces made by hand on site. So we said, “Wow, this is exactly what the market needs.” The problem is the market didn't quite need it yet.

Christopher Reichert: It wasn't there.

Mitch Roberts: I think it will eventually or something like it will in fact work up here as the pallet sophistication continues to increase. Consumers are slow to adapt, particularly in the Northeast and so it will get here. But we built three of them and operated them for about five years and then finally just pulled the plug cause they—

Christopher Reichert: A bit of distraction at the end.

Mitch Roberts: They weren't going. It wasn't working. And that's a realization that you have to reach at some point you have to realize, you know what, we gave it a good try. Time to cut it off.

Christopher Reichert: So if you think back on your time at Sloan in the classes you took, do you have any strong memories of a class or a time together with your classmates?

Mitch Roberts: I do. I have a lot of them. When it comes to professors, I'd have to say the three that stand out that I think I still apply the knowledge I gained from those classes, they still are with me. I had a mergers and acquisitions professor named Paul Asquith. I knew nothing about finance when I came to business school. In fact, one of the reasons I wanted to go to business school was I worked in this real estate development company, and I didn't understand the economics of what they were doing. It didn't make sense to me, and I was like, "I got to go and learn how that all works." And it turns out, by the way, after I took several finance classes that their economics didn't work. So I, in fact, had understood it, and it didn't make sense. But Paul Asquith was a tremendous teacher, and I remember one line from his course, he had a phrase, “The stupid banker theory.” Basically, it was having a high multiple business and buying a low multiple business but getting the high multiple applied to it. The banker looking at it and saying, "Oh well, high multiple bought low multiple must be high multiple now.” And that concept has stuck with me when we think about our banking relationships and borrowing and what we want to talk about with banks. And so that's never left me.

Christopher Reichert: You look for a stupid banker when you go for a loan?

Mitch Roberts: No. Actually, in my experience, smart bankers are much more useful than stupid bankers. Stupid bankers might be easier, but smart bankers are a better partner over the long term.

Christopher Reichert: Maybe the early ones just to get over the hurdle and then you fake it till you make it, right?

Mitch Roberts: There is a—I think he's still here—a Michael Cusumano who taught the Strategy class that I took.

Christopher Reichert: He was my thesis advisor.

Mitch Roberts: Eye-opening. So for a guy who had no background in how you think about businesses that was one of the most profound courses. Just comparing strategy and thinking about how different companies had different strategies all in the same space. I remember writing my course paper comparing Marriott and Hilton. Very different strategies about how they were growing, and it was a wonderful learning experience. It's really been applicable because we think about it today when we look at franchise models, and what's the strategy for their growth, and how are they differentiating themselves, and what matters? And so absolutely, apply that and think about that. The last one that really sticks with me is a class I took in Change Management from Ed Schein, a full semester course with lots of reading and lots of conversations and papers. But the one thing I remember from it that still is applicable, is when you try to change something, the way you get something accomplished, the way you make a change happen is you remove obstacles. You don't shove people through a change, you figure out what's stopping the change, and you get those out of the way. And that is really a great way, a great model to think about in our business, because essentially—the restaurant business is a fashion business. It's not fashion by season, but it's fashion every few years it changes. You have to ask your operators to constantly change what they're doing. So how do you do that? Because they've done it this way for the last three years. “What do you mean you want me to do a different thing?” Well, change management. How do you remove the obstacles to the change? And that's directly from Ed Schein's course, and it has stuck with me for 27 years.

Christopher Reichert: It's like a different version of EQ, that you don't push people through it. You just listen to what the problem is and then find a collaborative way through it.

Mitch Roberts: That's right and figure out what's jamming them up and unjam it.

Christopher Reichert: So with your wife also a Sloan grad–

Mitch Roberts: Yes.

Christopher Reichert: How did you...you were married before you came here. You both got into Sloan together, and she went to work at Apple. She's still in technology?

Mitch Roberts: No, Jill left the workforce with baby number three, and we have four children, so she has raised the family. Done a wonderful job. The kids are now mostly out of the home, and she has spent an enormous amount of time, mostly volunteering these days, particularly in the arts and has been involved with all kinds of boards and—

Christopher Reichert: I see you're very active on the Huntington Theatre.

Mitch Roberts: I remain active. I actually have been on that board for 23 or 24 years now. I was president of the board for six years. Jill's on the board of the Boston Ballet now among others. Interestingly, I was in my first job out of Sloan at Au Ban Pain, and I was speaking to the chairman because I thought life was going well. We had a baby or maybe even two—I think one—and the job was going well. It seemed to be working, and I said to him, "Louis, family's good, job is good. I feel as if I need a civic involvement. I need to be part of the city. What do I do?” Cause he was a very involved guy. He said, "Well what do you like?" I said, "Well I like art, and I like theater." He said, "Well, let me introduce you to some people."

And he did. And introduced me to some folks at the ICA and over at the Huntington, and I said, “I like the Huntington. I like what they do.” And then I started learning about their civic involvement in their outreach and incredible stuff they do with the public school systems, not just in Boston but in the whole area. And I said, "Yes, I could get involved with that." And they to their credit, handled me very well. They made me an overseer and didn't ask very much and didn't need very much from me, and they developed me as any good organization would and right to the point where I became president of the trustees.

Christopher Reichert: So this is now what, 20 plus years you've been involved?

Mitch Roberts: Yes, I get very boring. I stick to things, same company. Yes, I know.

Christopher Reichert: So if we think about prospective students who might come to Sloan, can you tell us about the relevance of your MBA, your connection to Sloan, having gone to Sloan versus other business schools? What thoughts do you have or advice for them as they decide between going to business school, going to Sloan, or going somewhere else?

Mitch Roberts: Right, I came to Sloan specifically because it was MIT, and I wanted to be in technology, and where would I go other than MIT? Well, that didn't exactly happen in my life. It went a different course. But I have found that my Sloan education prepared me remarkably well for what I ended up doing. So I happened to be in the restaurant industry, but we have 3,000 employees and 63 locations across three States. So I'm not really in the restaurant industry. I'm in the company building and managing business. It happens to be restaurants. It could be a lot of different things. But my Sloan education really prepared me radically well for handling issues that come along—that are unexpected, frankly, because you can't really plan for them—but come along with building a business and the Sloan community, which I'm still connected to very closely. I was at the Red Sox game last night with three classmates from Sloan who are all in very different businesses than I am in, and we've stayed very close for a long, long time and they’re resources.

And they're people that you can call and have conversations with because even though they're in different industries, what they are fundamentally, is really smart. So my experience in Sloan was sitting in a room, whether it was a classroom of 30 or a full class—I think we were about 220 at the time—of really, really smart people who challenged you and made you better. That was my basic experience. It was really wonderful and enriching.

Christopher Reichert: Excellent. Well, on that, I'm going to thank Mitch Roberts from PR restaurants for joining us today on Sloanies Talking with Sloanies.

Mitch Roberts: Well, thank you very much, Christopher. Pleasure.

Christopher Reichert: Sloanies Talking with Sloanies is produced by the office of external relations at MIT Sloan School of management. You can subscribe to this podcast by visiting our website, MIT sloan.mit.edu/alumni or wherever you find your favorite podcasts. Support for this podcast comes in part from the Sloan Annual Fund, which provides essential flexible funding to assure that our community can pursue excellence. Make your gift today by visiting giving.mit.edu/sloan.

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