Want to Be a CEO? You Need to Watch This TV Show Now

Yes, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m late to the party. Very, very late. It was only this week that I sat down with Netflix and happened to stumble upon Undercover Boss. And I think I can safely say that this show is the stuff of genius and should be required viewing for all business school and marketing students.

Here’s the premise of the show: A boss, typically a CEO or other ultra-important figure, goes undercover and has to do the job of approximately five employees who work under him (or her), often at the very lowest levels of the business.

Webster’s dictionary defines empathy as “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions.” Unfortunately, most CEOs don’t have such feelings. Why would they? They’re typically dealing with “top-level” assignments and they have neither the time nor the inclination to wonder what’s going on at the lowest levels of their organization. Enter Undercover Boss.

I watched three episodes that each struck me for different reasons:

1. Hooters. Yes, Hooters, the restaurant/bar known for its wings and the beautiful women who typically serve its customers. Though Coby G. Brooks is no longer the president and CEO of the company, he was during this episode of Undercover Boss. In the show, we learn that Brooks never aspired to work for the company that his father co-founded and led, but upon his brother’s and father’s deaths, he was named their successor. To watch Brooks fail at working as a busboy, to watch him learn that women view the company as sexist, and to watch him be utterly embarrassed as a manager mistreats his employees makes for excellent viewing and learning. It is clear that Brooks empathized with his employees and at the end he sets out to make real changes within this company based on his experiences.

2. Kevin Sheehan is a New Yorker turned CEO of Norwegian Cruise Lines. On this show, it is clear that Sheehan is trying to learn about the ins and outs of his company. He becomes frustrated when a Brooklynite who’s spent his whole life at sea tells him that his paint job needs lots of work. It’s also clear that Sheehan can’t dance nearly as well as one of his associate cruise directors directs him to. And most certainly, Kevin lacks the coordination to work as a cruise-ship waiter. But Kevin takes all of these things that he is unable to do in stride. His greatest lesson comes from watching his employees assemble an ice rink on top of one of his ships. When nobody uses this skating rink, Sheehan wonders why his ships are even equipped with these silly things that waste lots of manpower and resources, with very little upside. He learns from these experiences and takes action.

3. Finally, one of the most interesting episodes of this show features Mark Mallory, the mayor of Cincinnati. It takes a whole lot of cojones for the mayor of a major American city to be willing to go undercover on national television. Mallory (equipped with some dreadlocks and a goatee) first rides around with the one man in his city whose job is to collect all of the dead animals that have been killed on the city’s streets. Then, he works as a repairman at a shop that repairs all of the city’s vehicles. He also walks around with a parking meter attendant and observes how tough it is for a community recreation center employee who has way too many kids under her watch due to budget cuts. Mallory asserts that he will make simple changes that benefit everyone. He adds GPS to the vehicle that the pest-control officer rides in. He links the parking-meter attendant’s device with those of the police department to better monitor stolen vehicles. He makes sure that the city’s repairmen are recognized at a city event. And he ensures that the recreation center won’t be cut from the budget and expands a program that teaches adolescents how to work at real jobs.

This is the first television show that I have ever watched that has made a real-world difference in people’s lives. I realized while watching Undercover Boss that sometimes it may take a camera and a look under the microscope to make this happen. So to

any CEOs reading this: If you decide to go on Undercover Boss, your company will come out stronger, and the general public will have a far greater respect for your brand. It is worth any risks to go on this show, because you will learn so much. I know I did, just by watching.


The US Senate passed the JOBS Act: How this legislation can improve the quality of American journalism

I recently blogged about the many benefits that I hope will come to America with the passage of the JOBS Act. Now that the US Senate has passed the JOBS Act, the bill has gone back to the House of Representatives for final approval before President Obama signs it into law. Despite my skepticism about the ability of Congress to pass any legislation in this toxic and partisan political climate, I am pleasantly surprised that it looks like the JOBS Act should go through with bipartisan support.

My general thesis is that if the “people” can now invest in new ventures, then they will be more apt to use products and services that cater to small groups/communities, and more likely to shun products, services, and information that comes from large corporations that are geared for the masses. Of course, it may take a couple of years to see these effects, but I am hopeful that fragmentation can create diversity in spheres of life where Americans now have too few choices.

While other commentators have focused on the overall benefits and drawbacks for investors, businesses, regulators, and consumers, I will list potential ways that the new crowdfunding legislation can influence and disrupt journalism. My theories on winners and losers from the JOBS Act:

1. Communities can rally around creating publications that they control, rather than leaving sub-par newspapers in the hands of publishers motivated by the bottom line rather than creating high quality community content. Watch out Patch and legacy publishers! The potential to revive local journalism in places that are currently without local news sources is the most promising development that I see. But legacy media organizations should be on guard, because disruption born out of frustration may be just around the corner.

2. Niche publications will be able to get off the ground more easily. If a fragmented community of  1,000 people — I’m thinking an online community for this example — who were spread throughout America, wanted to hire one person to work to create content, they could hypothetically each donate $30 to a venture that could create a niche publication with a professional or semi-professional journalist/curator at the helm.

3. Television networks and cable channels should be scared because YouTube is already slicing up the market. Enthusiasts of various types of content that don’t achieve the critical masses needed for channels that cater to advertisers may now have their opportunity to band together to create more desirable programming…and make it profitable.

4. Television news should be a prime target for entrepreneurs at the local and national levels, as it has remained virtually unchanged for such a long time. I foresee new formats developing, and I believe the crowd will control how they develop.

5. Crowdfunded radio stations may destroy the traditional for-profit ones. Watch out ClearChannel. Look out for an indy radio explosion…most likely based on the Internet.

6. Lone bloggers and journalists with strong personal brands — or with the ability to build strong personal brands — will now be able to have investors rally behind them. This may create a major revolution for sole proprietors, ending the struggles that freelancers face in terms of tax burdens. Another advantage is that talented people may now be more willing to go off on their own rather than remain with corporations that underutilize talented journalists’ skills and abilities.