Anyone who has ever toiled on the front lines of a large corporation has probably wished the CEO would set aside a day and walk a mile in the employee’s shoes.
Thanks to a new CBS TV show, “Undercover Boss,” some CEOs are doing just that. Sheldon Yellen, CEO of BELFOR, the world’s largest disaster restoration company, was featured in the Jan. 16 episode, and learned that freezing wages to save jobs may not have been the best approach.
Val and Mike Goble, daughter and son-in-law of Tahlequah residents Jane and Andy Jorgensen, work for BELFOR in Atlanta. Val is production administrator, and Mike drives a truck in the corporation’s newly formed transport department.
BELFOR has contracted with the Cherokee Nation to provide cleanup services at the Hard Rock Casino in Catoosa, following a partial roof collapse during the recent snowstorm. Mike has made several trips to Catoosal the most recent included transporting a mobile warehouse unit for the site.
Although the Atlanta office wasn’t featured in the “Undercover Boss” episode, Val said she and Mike had been on-site during the taping.
“My husband was in the final taping segment when everybody visits the corporate office,” said Val. “Unfortunately, everything that was taped here in Atlanta ended up on the cutting-room floor due to time constraints.”
Val has worked for BELFOR for eight years, and her husband hired on in 2010. She believes the experience was good for Yellen, but said her experiences dealing with him have always been good.
“He’s a very hands-on CEO,” said Val. “I’ve talked him a number of times.”
For those unfamiliar with the show, “Undercover Boss” allows a corporate CEO to go undercover with a disguise and perform lower-level tasks within his own company. CEOs generally work with four or five individuals, who are called back at the end of the week to the corporate office to find out the “average Joe” they’ve been working with is actually the CEO.
The boss then explains why he undertook the mission and what he learned from it.
BELFOR has offices in 29 countries around the world, and employs over 6,000 people worldwide. Yellen joined the company in 1984, but has worked since he was 11 years old. He admits to enjoying the finer things in life, including Italian suits and Gucci shoes.
At the onset of the economic crisis, Yellen instituted a wage and hiring freeze, with the idea that it would prevent the company from having to lay off employees.
During Yellen’s episode, he grew a beard, donned a hairpiece and took on the persona of “Tom Kelly” from Phoenix.
He was paired with Joe, a restoration tech in Norfolk, Va.; Drew, a carpenter in Denver; Brenda, a staffer in cleaning service in Indianapolis; and Jen, a water technician in Chesapeake, Va.
While working with Joe, he learned that due to the wage freeze, some employees had been forced to take side jobs just to make ends meet.
Drew, the carpenter, earned his master’s degree in business administration, but found it difficult to get a job in marketing after graduation. He took the job with BELFOR to pay his student loans.
As a child, Brenda, the house cleaner in Indianapolis, lived in a boxcar without running water, and had never attended school, but excelled in customer service with BELFOR because she made the customers feel at home and that they could trust her.
Finally, Jen, the water technician, told Yellen that despite being promoted from cleaner to water technician over a year ago, she hadn’t receive a raise for the extra training and job duties.
While learning about his employees, Yellen also attempted to perform the same tasks as his staffers, including hanging dry wall, packing boxes, cleaning a home of smoke damage, and crawling under a home to remove water-damaged insulation.
Throughout the experience, Yellen found he not only wasn’t accustomed to doing that kind of work, but that he wasn’t always capable of completing tasks successfully.
At the end of the taping, Joe, Drew, Brenda and Jen were asked to visit the corporate office, under the guise of voting for a favorite employee.
Yellen had already revealed his identity to Jen; but the other three found out only then that “Tom Kelly” was really their boss. All four received cash bonuses, along with opportunities to advance in the company.
Yellen vowed make changes to assist all employees, including having town-hall style meetings at various sites throughout the year.
Val said the experience really boosted morale throughout the Atlanta office.
“[Yellen’s] strength is his ability to connect with employees,” said Val. “Since the show, we’ve instituted more training to keep up with new technology. It’s a great place to work.”