UniFirst CEO Featured on CBS-TV's
Hit Reality Series "Undercover Boss"
WILMINGTON, Mass. — President and Chief Executive Officer Ronald Croatti of UniFirst Corporation, a leader in the uniform rental industry, was recently featured on the CBS Television Network's hit series, "Undercover Boss." It was the second most watched show in the U.S. for its time slot.
As part of his "undercover" assignment, Croatti donned a "hippie" disguise and worked alongside a number of his employee-Team Partners around the country to better understand their jobs and to see if any improvements might be warranted.
"Despite the fact I had some difficulties performing many of the various tasks, I was pleased to see the systems and procedures we have in place to ensure quality and customer satisfaction are working nicely in the field," Croatti said. "The Team Partners who 'trained' me were all exemplary workers who treated me and other co-workers with dignity and respect. And that's extremely important to me because it means our founding family values and family culture are also well entrenched throughout our company."
The CBS reality series "Undercover Boss" follows top-level executives of major national corporations as they slip anonymously into the rank and file of their companies. Each week, a different executive leaves the comfort of the executive suite for undercover missions to see firsthand the effects their corporate policies have on employees and the products and services they provide.
Following the international TV broadcast, Croatti established a new "continuous improvement" initiative for UniFirst based on his undercover experience. It called upon all operational Vice Presidents to roll up their sleeves and spend scheduled days doing, not just observing, various floor level and production jobs to ensure all were being done as effectively and efficiently as possible.
"It became clear to me during the UniFirst "Undercover Boss" experience that too often we establish rules, protocols, and training programs by simply 'observing' various jobs rather than actually 'doing' them," Croatti said. "We need to become more informed prior to developing or refining job requirements, policies, and new offerings."
Among the job tasks Croatti was called on to perform during the "Undercover Boss" episode were the unloading and sorting of soiled laundry, operating a "giant" laundry machine, sewing emblems onto uniforms, and carefully pressing customer work shirts. Naturally, the CEO's inexperience in these areas was evident and this was highlighted by a humorous "wardrobe malfunction" involving his moustache disguise coming loose.
As an example of how direct experience brings valuable insight, Croatti pointed to his "undercover" job of opening laundry bags, dumping them out, and sorting through soiled wiping towels. "The job specifications for sorting towels were developed for 20-pound bags. In practice, the bags actually weigh 75 to 125 pounds or more. That's a significant difference that impacts how the sorting job can and should be done." As a result, that particular set of tasks was modified to make processing more efficient, and to better safeguard employee-Team Partners doing the job.
Based on his "Undercover Boss" experience, Croatti said he would recommend that all CEOs go "undercover" by meeting with employees in non-threatening environments and being open to their ideas.
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