Choice Hotel's Undercover Boss Sweats the Hospitality Business

undercover boss choice hotelsSteve Joyce is by no means a mama's boy, but he couldn't help thinking of his mother when the CEO of Choice Hotels International went undercover. "Mom spent her entire life helping other people, both personally and professionally, and she taught me to do the same" he said. "When I worked with some of our employees, saw what they'd been through and what they were still doing for others, I realized I wasn't living up to the standards my mother set for me."

And so begins the second season of the Emmy-nominated 'Undercover Boss,' The story employees were told this season was that Joyce and another contestant were competing for the same job for a reality TV show. To hide his identity, Joyce shaved the mustache he'd had since he was a teenager, moussed his hair, wore strange clothes selected for him by a dress-down wardrobe specialist, and tried his hand at some of the most grueling tasks in the hotel industry. He admits it wasn't pretty. "I sweat a lot," he confessed.

Who wouldn't, when you're at an EconoLodge in Orlando, Fla., in 90-degree, humid heat, cleaning a pool and a toilet and hoofing it across the grounds of the largest facility in the Choice Hotels Group? That's where Joyce labored side-by-side with Ricardo, who had been with the company full time for seven years, and had a second job, in order to make ends meet and keep his son in medical school.

Ricardo mentioned that the hotel wasn't in the same pristine shape it was 25 years ago when it first opened, and Joyce observed so many problems that in the end, he called in the general manager, instructed him to fix the place up, and bought a golf cart for Ricardo so he could get around faster. But he wasn't finished. He also expanded the Choice Hotels scholarship program so that it could cover Ricardo's son, who now has medical school school paid for.

undercover boss choice hotelsWorking up a sweat

Joyce also worked up a sweat trying to clean an entire hotel room in 28 minutes. "It took me more like 47 minutes," he said. "With such high standards of cleanliness, it's really tough." Christine, the housekeeping expert with whom he worked admitted that it isn't easy and that it takes its toll, especially on her family, for whom she couldn't provide as much as she'd like. Still, when she saw what a tough time Joyce was having with the experience, she said, "He needs to go to house keeping boot camp.

"The whole experience inspired me to get back to the gym more often, among other things," Joyce added. Those other things included giving Christine and her family an all-expenses paid trip to Orlando, and enabling her to take classes at Choice's online university, so she would be qualified to manage an entire hotel, instead of just the housekeeping aspects. By the time the show aired, she'd taken the classes and received the promotion.

Although his next assignment might not have been as physically demanding, Joyce was also in a lather making sales calls for Cambria Suites near Indianapolis. Joyce was going by his father's name, Jack, but became so flustered he used his real name, Steve -- and thankfully his trainer didn't call him on it. Joyce was surprised to learn that John, the director of sales who was instructing him had only been on the job for a little over two months, but had already developed outstanding expertise, contacts and relationships.

Joyce wanted a sharp guy like that on his international sales team, and arranged for training for John so that he would receive that major promotion as soon as possible. Joyce also noticed that John was a snappy dresser, and gave him $5,000 to use on a new wardrobe that would suit his new position.

Not what he expected

The last thing he anticipated after that was to spend the night in one of his company's own rooms, and find it unsatisfactory. At the Suburban Extended Stay Hotel in Indianapolis, he observed that the kitchen wasn't as tidy as he'd like it, nor as well stocked. He even had to go down to the front desk and pay for coffee! In another hotel, he was stuck in an elevator for more than ten minutes. When he reported these flaws to his board, they were stunned. Since Choice franchises its facilities, they don't have complete control over them all, but they vowed to do as much as they could to make sure guests are as comfortable as possible.

Last but not least, Joyce was flustered to find that Brandalyn, the nighttime front desk clerk at the Comfort Suites in Fishers, Ind., not only had to make an accurate count of the day's intake (which he was not able to do--he was almost $100 short!), but had to fold towels in the laundry room, clean the pool area and do other maintenance because she was the only employee on duty at night.

Brandalyn told him that her fiance had been laid off, so their family was living at home with his father-in-law. She would like to move into management, but was unaware of the extensive online university the company has developed to help her with these goals. Joyce was stunned to learn that employees are not being made aware of all the opportunities the company provides.

"The goal was to not just help the individuals I worked with, but to create and instill policies company-wide that would help all the others who are in the same position," said Joyce. But of course, he reached out to Brandalyn's family as well. He arranged to pay their rent for six months, so they could have a home of their own, and gave the family an all-expenses paid trip to San Antonio, which they used for their wedding.

undercover boss steve joyceThe three H's

And for watching, Joyce likes to think he's providing 'Undercover Boss' viewers with "the three H's: humor, humiliation and heart." He's not worried that much of the humor and humiliation come at his own expense. His two daughters, ages 14 and 19, are accustomed to their dad's sense of humor, and revel in the advice-giving roles they get to play on the show.

In addition, Joyce tries to make laughter a part of the corporate culture at Choice Hotels. "That's my reputation in the industry, and my industry colleagues won't be too surprised to find me in humorous situations." he said. And his colleagues are legion -- he's been involved in the restaurant/hospitality industry since he was 12. That's how he put himself through the University of Virginia, and funded graduate work at Cornell, Wharton and the Aspen Institute.

Joyce has certainly seen the hotel industry's ups and downs, and acknowledges that it, like almost everything else, has taken a big hit over the past couple of years. He says his industry has suffered a one-two punch, because individuals who have lost their jobs or suffered reduced salaries naturally cut back on vacations, and struggling companies keep business travel at a minimum. "Then the government talks about boycotting travel to certain areas, and that hurts our industry as well," he added.

"But we had a good summer, which indicates that business is improving, and employment in our industry is on the rise," Joyce said. "My hope in being on 'Undercover Boss' is that people get an appreciation for what our people do for them on the front lines to try to make their stays comfortable."

And if that involves a little (or a lot of) sweat equity on his part, he believes it's worth it. His mother would be proud.

Next: The Apprentice After the Boardroom: Alex Delgado >>

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

Mr Joyce You may have started a company and have been graced that it has grown so big but times change and you need to change too but you also must keep in touch with where you started or you could lose that which you hold dear.
It's always good to go back to the begining and see what has changed and how it can now be improved.
Sir you did good but you must never forget where you started and why you started the company you did and why!

September 27 2010 at 10:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As far as the US continuing it's slide down to a 3rd world country all the big business owner need to reflect on what they started in the mid '70s.I was a life long resident of Silicon Vally and when the price of homes,apartments whatever started to skyrocket home owners that had lived in their late 40's homes that had been paid off for years decided to sell,they got $250,000 for their home,nexteveryone around figure they could get more so they list their home for $300,000 and get it.My parents home in Los Gatos that our family had lived in since the 1880's was sold by my sister,she listed it for $450,000 and a kid looked at it and bought it for asking price.A couple years ago I looked up real estate in Los Gatos and the cheapest I found was a 900 square foot ex chicken coop,it was listed atthe bargain price of $900,000!.The bigger part of this nationwide problem is like,lets say,Hewlett-Packard corp,cant get line workers because the home prices are out of reach as is rents,home rentles,du plexes,whatever,in that area apartments were going for $1800 for a one bedroom..H-P decided to ove production to Boise ID well the locals knew all about the situation and hooked them,same deal with Seattle home prices took off in to the stratosphere,finally the big electronics firms moved all of their manufacturing off shore,the scenario worked for them in two ways,they had their cheap labor and didnt have to worry about Californication like they did in California,China workers making cell phones,TV's,and who knows what being paid $2.00 an hour,the chinese love it because with these salaries they can save up and buy their favorite car,infact GM builds them in China,a Buick!! Buick is the Chinese familys dream car.The other issue is, Social Security,that goes hand in hand with almost all of our manufacturing going offshore,those folks dont pay into FICA like WE used to do our entire working life,illegal's are have the same scenario,they get paid under the table so they dont pay taxes think about that,11,000.000 people that dont pay FICA or any other taxes,they should be deported,where is their pride in their country?,Mexico not the USA,if you havent yet read the rules to become a citizen of Mexico you should the entire set of rules are what ours should be.Iam fed up with their women that are pregnant coming across the border to have thier child(children) in the USA because their kid is an "anchor baby" with a Social Security card,which,no job,(and you can bet when these kids grow up they will have no intention of working) thats how they were raised,taking advantage of the system sucking it dry. If none of the folks out there that actually read this instead of sticking their heads in the sand spouting off about,"IT'S NOT MY PROBLEM!" well bunky I'm afraid it is your problem if something is not done and done soon you will watch our country slide down into third world status.Who's idea was it for the US to join the european union and dumping our monetary system for Euro's??,that has got to be one of the dumbest ideas I have ever heard. The very first part of business for us is to dump that president we have along with Pelosi,all those folks KNOW we are on the slippery slope headed for 3rd world status,they and their merry band of hench men will come along when there is nothing for us and say,"we told you so if you all had any brains you should have been using our "socialst" type of government, remember,"socialst" is just one more way of saying "communist",whatever their spiel is we will have a huge thank you,then,getting rid of guns!,OK,OK stop and think oof the countrys whose head guy banned guns,you DO remember your history dont you?,think about it,Germany Hitler burned the books too so nobody will think any way of living except for the Nazi way,North Korea,China,Viet Nam,ALL the eastern block countrys.The line of volunteer work that I do,I meet a lot of Australian people so,I ask how is THEIR gun ban is going?,I get the same answer every time,"oh it's great! you Yanks should do it!",then I ask "how many crips and bloods in the country?,I always get the 1,000 yard stare in return,the USA is put together completly than any other country it just wont work here,PERIOD!!.OK,OK This entire rant is getting boring so I will shut up after I say one last thing,if a country's people's right to bear arms is taken away,we cease being "citizens" and we become "subjects'....Dave

September 27 2010 at 9:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I really do like the idea of "Undercover Boss". But what I would really like to hear about is more CEOs doing this same thing, just without the TV hype. I've been working at a big department chain for 6 years, and the store has gone through 3 store managers. Each "new" manager says things are going to change...still waiting on that one. But...I really love what I do. Just the management needs some help. They don't care about the employees, just the numbers.

September 27 2010 at 8:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hat's off to Mr. Joyce. It's a rare thing to see the person in charge of a company take on the role of his employees, most of whom he will never meet. It's very inspriring to read this, and know that Mr. Joyce helped those that he met and worked with while he was rubbing elbows with working folks. Not to belittle his position at all, I imagine being the CEO of this company doesn't involve a lot of elbow grease. It seems to me that put in that position, the man is humble and caring for his extended "family". May the experience serve you well through your life.

September 27 2010 at 8:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Steve says he was shocked at what he found during his week undercover.

What I found weak was his top executives who didn't know what was going on in the company. What do they do all day? Probable nothing.

When he asked about the coffee he got two different responses.

The largest hotel had a manager who never contacted headquarters about the lack of funds to maintain the hotel.

September 27 2010 at 8:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I sure wish my boss and the other higher ups would follow this mans ideas then maybe they would show us a little more respect?

September 27 2010 at 7:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

ED. V SAID....
9-27-2010 @5:00PM
ed. v said... it's the american bussiness model that's the problem with america !!
deprive your employee's a livable income ,good health insurance ,retirement,
vacation time and pay. retain most of a copany's profiet's and the economy will be lobsided toward the rich. with very littel consumer spending ,stock's suffer !! = RESESION!! COME ON CORPORATE AMERICA STOP HORDING!!! YOUR HURTING THE HEALTH OF OUR COUNTRY!!!


September 27 2010 at 7:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This has to be the PHONIEST show I have ever had the displeasure of watching. The supposed CEO's don't do much to help their people after their experience. If anyone watched the show, one guy was praised for his great, energetic personality and that guy chose to go to a hospital and use his 'great personality' there. There was one guy they actually helped with his house for his family. That was cool but basically......these CEO's do NOTHING and the show is a typical full on ADVERTISEMENT for their company!!!!! It should be turned off and anyone that says "Oh isn't that nice of the CEO to do that for his staff".......NO IT ISN'T....Why doesn't that fat cat CEO DO IT FOR EVERYONE in his company. He won't because if he did he won't be able to buy a new Caddy next year or a 3 week trip to Europe. Also, look at the staff he reports to in the board room. They all have the "I couldn't give a sh**" attitude when the CEO comes back and explains to these numb morons as to his recent experiences. THIS SHOW SUCKS!!!

September 27 2010 at 7:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

its about time wyndham steps up and does the same .

September 27 2010 at 7:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What shocks me is that choice hotels makes their employees PAY to better themselves? The housekeeper could not advanced to GM becuase she would have had to pay $1500 of her own money for training? I work for another hotel chain which is one of the low end economy brands but at least my company is willing to pay for employees who are interested in promotions. In fact one of the few things I LIKE about my company is how much they emphasis promoting from with in. They pay for courses, travel to the training site, 3 weeks of paid training on a property as well as meal and gas reimbursements. It's sad that Choice does not do this for their employees.

September 27 2010 at 7:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Search Articles

Picks From the Web