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The Undercover Boss of DIRECTTV

Mike White had one hour of training (instead of the usual six weeks) before he hit the job in disguise with some of his front-line employees. The results, he admits to BNET.com columnist Stanley Bing, were humbling and highly educational.

The Undercover Boss of DIRECTTV

Bing: DIRECTTV is a new place for you. What was it like to submerge yourself in an unfamiliar corporate culture?

White:   You're right. I'm a new CEO in a new company in a new industry. I spent 20 years at PepsiCo and came over to DIRECTV in January. So doing Undercover Boss was a valuable way to learn more about our business and to connect with our front line at the same time. It was an amazing experience. I don't think I've worked that hard since I was 21 as a greens keeper on a golf course.

Bing:   As Mel Brooks said: It's good to be the king

White:   (laughs) Yes.

The Undercover Boss of DIRECTTV

One Big Family

One Big Family

One Big Family

Bing: It's different, isn't it, when people don't treat you with a certain level of respect because of your title.

White:   Well, I come from a family of eight brothers and sisters and they keep me honest about who I really am. So does my wife.

Bing: In your business, a lot has to go right for the customer to be happy.

White:   You got that so right, Stanley. We have some of the most sophisticated and complex technology in the world at DIRECTV but it doesn't work if you don't have a call agent who picks up the phone or a technician who shows up at the house and can't solve the problem there. Great as our technology is, none of it's worth a damn without the support of our almost 40,000 employees in the United States alone. More than I am, they're the voice of DIRECTV with our customers.

The Undercover Boss of DIRECTTV

Guts? Or Insanity?

Guts? Or Insanity?

Guts? Or Insanity?

Bing: Do you think you were a good employee?

White:   (laughs) I tried hard to be a good employee, but, you know, when we put someone on the job as a technician or in the call center, they typically have four to six weeks of training. I had about an hour, so… I made my share of mistakes, shall we say.

Bing:   It takes some guts to do the undercover boss thing. Had you ever been on TV before?

White:   Guts or insanity, I'm not sure which. I kept saying to myself, "Just be yourself," because I'm not an actor. I'm not even a good liar, according to my mother. I tried to focus on the job and let the producers worry about how to make it great entertainment.

The Undercover Boss of DIRECTTV

CEO on a Hot, Stormy Roof

CEO on a Hot, Stormy Roof

CEO on a Hot, Stormy Roof

Bing: How were you disguised?

White: I grew a bit of facial hair and I also kind of had my hair dyed and spiked, and topped it off with a pair of glasses.

Bing: Well, you look totally different now than you did on the show. I'm still trying to reconcile the idea that the spiky hipster and the CEO are the same guy...Tell me about the job you did. You went to Alabama first.

White: It was 95 degrees and humid and we were doing an install on a rooftop. It was an amazing experience.

Bing:   By amazing you mean intolerable.

White: It was hot.  Then, in the second install, we had to race to get it done before the thunderstorm hit.

Bing:   Were you seeing yourself hit by lightning?

White:   We had a metal ladder kindon the roof and the storm clouds were rolling in (laughs).  I was worried for Tequilla, but she was bound and determined to get the job done.

The Undercover Boss of DIRECTTV

"We Don't Thank Our People Enough"

"We Don't Thank Our People Enough"

"We Don't Thank Our People Enough"

BingWhen you got back to your office, did you say, "Let's get to work on some things that I found out"?

White:   I saw some things that our company does incredibly well. Both Phil and Tequilla weren't leaving the home until we got that service completed for the customer. They were so passionate about customer service. But there were also a few things that didn't work exactly the way we drew it up in the laboratory. We've got a whole task force that is working on some of the things that we found while filming Undercover Boss.

Bing:   Like what?

White:  Sometimes processes and procedures don't work the way you think they do. And other times it's just a simple thing like realizing how important the front line work force is to us. We're going to have a technician appreciation day next April in recognition of all of our front line workers. Because I don't think we thank them enough.

The Undercover Boss of DIRECTTV

Casting a Shadow

Casting a Shadow

Casting a Shadow

Bing: Going undercover brings home how much a company relies on the front line.

White:  I like to think the show's not so much about the undercover boss. It's about the undiscovered and sometimes underappreciated front line.  Undercover Boss is always about some amazing folks overcoming adversity on the front line and I mean they really were inspirational for me.

Bing:   So do you think it would be a good idea for all CEOs to go under cover?

White:   You know, it's great to have the strategic visions and all that stuff, but CEOs need to ask, do you know it really works at the front line? And second, can you walk a mile in the shoes of the folks you're asking to actually execute the strategy? If there's something we need a lot more of in corporate America, it's rebuilding trust from my office all the way down to the front line.

Bing:   The CEO can set a tone for the whole company.

White:  Every leader casts a shadow. It can be a shadow for good or..less good. In doing Undercover Boss, I hoped  to set a shadow a little bit for the organization.