How my Undercover Boss appearance changed me forever

moderated by Deborah Norville, host of Inside Edition

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Session recap

Bosses go undercover to get front-line experience

The CEOs who appeared on the CBS TV show “Undercover Boss” certainly earned their “15 minutes” of fame. But the entrepreneurs who shared their experiences Saturday at the Forum’s “How my Undercover Boss appearance changed my life” session also said their appearance had a significant impact on their business.

Moderated by Deborah Norville, host of Inside Edition, the panel featured Chris McCann, President,; Rick Tigner, President, Jackson Family Wines; José R. Mas, Chief Executive Officer, MasTec, Inc.; Dina Dwyer-Owens, Chairwoman and CEO, The Dwyer Group; and Tom Ham, Director, Business Development and Corporate Outreach, Studio Lambert and producer of Undercover Boss.

Going undercover
The CEOs were given makeovers for the TV show to disguise their appearance so they could engage in frank discussions with employees. They learned that many corporate policies were not filtering down to the front line. As a result of what they learned, the panelists said they changed benefits plans, ramped up communications efforts and implemented bi-lingual training programs.

Said McCann, who worked undercover as an apprentice florist, “I was frustrated to learn that one floral designer had been told that corporate didn’t support training for florists.”

“After that, I worked with our team to make sure that the people responsible for designing our training programs are also responsible for selling those programs (to employees), so more people would be aware and attend.”

Communicating from the heart
A heart-to-heart discussion with a part-time employee who routinely worked 35-40 hours a week without benefits prompted Tigner to change corporate policy. “We evaluated all our temporary and part-time employees, identified those who were great employees and regularly working more than 30 hours and gave them full-time jobs,“ he said.

When Owens, CEO of a service company, heard that employees at one franchise were confused about compensation plans, she set the wheels in motion to have that manager get back to employees with a communications plan that helped them understand how the commission-based system worked.

“If anyone thinks their company works perfectly, they are wrong,” Mas said. “You may think you’re sending the right message and everyone is marching to the same beat, but many times it’s not getting to that front line.”

Everybody wants to be a part
He added that he was particularly moved by how eager his firm’s employees were to understand what their job means to the company. “I realized that if I can make employees feel more of a part of this company,” he said, “then everyone will have a positive impact on our business.”

The appearance does have additional benefits for companies that market to consumers. Ham estimated that if companies bought the equivalent amount of air time on CBS, it would cost $12 million.


Chris McCann photo

Chris McCann

Rick Tigner photo

Rick Tigner
Jackson Family Wines

José R. Mas photo

José R. Mas
Chief Executive Officer
MasTec, Inc.

Dina Dwyer-Owens photo

Dina Dwyer-Owens
Chairwoman and CEO
The Dwyer Group

Tom Ham photo

Tom Ham
Director, Business Development and Corporate Outreach
Studio Lambert


Deborah Norville photo

Deborah Norville
Inside Edition