Forbes CIO-plus Series: Chris Laping, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers

December 18, 2012
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In an installment of the CIO-Plus Series in Peter High’s Forbes Technovation column, Chris Laping, SVP of Business Transformation and CIO of Red Robin Gourmet Burgers talks about how to be a change agent from the perch of an IT leader.

by Peter High, published on


In a recent article, I mentioned the trend in companies around the US and beyond of expanding the CIO’s responsibilities based on the translation of good work done in IT into other divisions and departments in the company. I refer to this phenomenon as the CIO-plus role.  I kicked off the series last week with an interview with Puneet Bhasin, the Senior Vice President – Technology, Logistics and Customer Service, Chief Information Officer of Waste Management.  (Past articles in the series can be found here) This week, I am delighted to continue the series with Chris Laping, the Senior Vice President of Business Transformation and Chief Information Officer of Red Robin Gourmet Burgers (NASDAQ: RRGB).

Laping has what I believe to be the ideal background for a CIO. He has an engineering degree as an undergraduate, an MBA, he spent time as a consultant, and though he is not yet 40, he has been a CIO for ten years. He joined Red Robin as CIO in June of 2007, and after transforming that organization, added the role of SVP of Business Transformation to his title in February of 2011, noting that the company hoped that his “transformation” activities would not be limited to IT. Now it seems that each analyst call that Red Robin CEO Stephen Carley leads features initiatives that Laping and his team leads or co-leads, such as the development of the Red Royalty customer loyalty program that he oversaw in concert with the company’s CMO, which has contributed substantial sales lift in those stores where it has been fully implemented.

Laping does not hide his desire to take on even greater responsibility in the future, and he pays much more than lip-service to this ambition, as he continues to drive value from his CIO-plus perch within his company.

Peter High:
You have been a Chief Information Officer since your late 20s, Chris.  When you started as CIO, what did you hope to do in that role?

Chris Laping:
If I honestly reflect on my goals at age 29 as a CIO in the GMAC world, it really boiled down to a few things: 1) be a leader that focused more on WE than ME; 2) be transformative and care about my company’s business more than my passion for technology and; 3) innovate in new ways that weren’t just limited to the technology toolbox.

Ultimately though, the number one metric I used to understand if I was succeeding was progress.  I’ve never believed that people expect perfection or the total solution overnight; they are happy if you are making meaningful progress on a daily basis.

Additional topics covered in the article include:

  • The CIO+ roles were few and far between when you started out as a CIO. When did it occur to you that a meaningful career path would be to add on to your CIO responsibilities?
  • What is it about the CIO role that lends itself well to taking on responsibilities beyond IT?
  • Your newest role is over what is referred to as “Business Transformation.” What does that entail?
  • How do you divide up your CIO duties and your Business Transformation duties, and do you staff these commonly or separately?
  • How do you measure success in each case?
  • In five or ten years, where do you see yourself?  What do you think the combination of roles you now have could lead to for you personally?

To read the full article, please visit

To explore other CIO-plus Series articles, please click here.

To explore the Technovation Column library, please click here.

To listen to Chris Laping’s interview on The Forum on World Class IT, please click here.

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