ABM Industries' Undercover Boss, Henrik Slipsager, Revisits 9/11

There aren't many adults in the United States who can't recall exactly where they were when the planes flew into the World Trade Center on 9/11. President and CEO of ABM Industries Henrik Slipsager, this week's Undercover Boss, was in San Francisco, desperately trying to contact his family at home in New York. Two of the workers who participated with him in an 'Undercover Boss' segment were at Ground Zero.

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Talking to them about their experiences on that fateful day was the hardest part of Slipsager's 'Undercover Boss' experience. "No matter who you are, it's in your system," he said. "It's digging deep, and it hurts. The most difficult part was not being able to reveal my identity and ask them the questions I really wanted to ask."

A total of 17 ABM employees died on 9/11. Hundreds worked at the World Trade Center when the towers fell, but some were on different shifts.


Recovery time

The employees who were there were given time to recover from the experience, and when they were ready, ABM found them work in other buildings. Slipsager worked with Larry a freight elevator operator who had been with ABM for 26 years, and was cleaning outside the World Trade Center when the planes hit. He said he was grateful for how they were treated by ABM during such a difficult and emotional time.

In the end, when Slipsager revealed his identity, he told Larry that ABM would have a reunion of all the employees who were who were at the World Trade Center on that fateful day. Larry had been with ABM for 37 years, and Slipsager also gave him and his wife an all expenses paid vacation.

Maria, another employee with whom Slipsager worked on janitorial duties, lost her 27-year-old nephew on 9/11. He was a foreman for ABM and was working on the 96th floor of one of the towers.


AOL Jobs Asks
Undercover Boss Henrik Slipsager
5 Quick Questions

1. What was your first job? Summer landscaping at age 14.

2. What inspires you? Anything to do with tomorrow.

3. What is the most important trait needed to succeed? Pride in what you do.

4. What is your biggest challenge? Balancing home life with work.

5. What is the best career advice you ever received? Take it! (offered by a colleague when Slipsager had just settled with his family back in Denmark, and he was offered the ABM job, which would require a move back to New York.)

Who wears the pants?

Although Slipsager was not great at cleaning the toilets and glass walls under Maria's supervision, he found great dignity and commitment in the way she and other employees performed their housekeeping duties--even in the obligatory white dress, which she said was impractical for cleaning.

"My goal for being an Undercover Boss, although I'm quite shy, was to show how proud and focused our employees are, and what a good job they're doing," he said. "I believe we accomplished that."

Slipsager also accomplished a uniform change for Maria that included pants and a shirt instead instead of the white dress. When Maria met Slipsager as the CEO, he also told her that ABM was going to dedicate 17 granite pavers at ground zero, with the names of their employees who perished in the attacks, and that ABM would also donate $25,000 to a 9/11 fund in the name of Maria's nephew.


So what, exactly is ABM?

ABM may not be a household name, but chances are you've been in a building that's been serviced by them. ABM stands for American Building Maintenance, which was founded more than 100 years ago and has over 90,000 employees. It's one of the nation's largest facilities services contractors, offering janitorial, engineering, parking and security services for thousands of clients. Slipsager, a Danish immigrant, has been President and CEO since the year 2000.

His cover was that he was an immigrant from Holland (let's face it, few Americans can tell a Danish accent from a Dutch accent) competing with another, younger candidate for a job in the United States. His disguise left a lasting impression: He had "virgin" hair that had never been dyed before, and when he tried to wash the color out, it remained orange for months.

Slipsager's first job for the 'Undercover Boss' episode was at the Tampa airport, working as shuttle operator for Ampco System Parking, a division of ABM. He was too slow at helping people with their luggage, and too fast driving. When he cursed his own ineptitude on the shuttles speaker for all the passengers to hear, that was the final straw for Kenny, the driver who was training him. Slipsager was promptly fired from his duties. "It was brutal," he said. "But Kenny is such a good kid."


Good enough to have ABM pay for his advanced education, which he said he'd been working on every day, and to enter their management training program. Previously, he'd thought he might want to become a fire fighter, but now he's changed his major to business.


undercover boss ABMThe most dangerous job to date

Next up was the most dangerous job an Undercover Boss has had to do yet. Slipsager worked with Peter, a commercial window washing supervisor, a Polish immigrant from Krakow, who required him to attach scaffold cables to the top of a building and wear a harness to go up many floors to clean windows. This was one of Slipsager's worst nightmares, since he's afraid of heights. "If you look closely, you'll see my left hand squeezing the scaffold -- it was cramping I was holding on so tight," he said. When Peter told him they had to go higher, Slipsager said he'd had enough and ended that assignment right then and there.

But not before Peter revealed that he had a wife and three children, one of them a seven year old son with with cerebral palsy. Peter said he was having trouble paying for the therapy his son needed. When the two men met up again in the finale, Slipsager appointed Peter to a safety committee, for which he'd be paid extra, offered to send Peter's family on a vacation, and also made a contribution to his son's therapy, which enable him to have twice as much as before.

Slipsager is sure that when people see how brave, dedicated and proud ABM workers are, they will have a new found respect and appreciation of the janitors, cleaners and other service workers that make their lives more comfortable on a daily basis. "People's perception changes when they see these people have interesting lives and names," he said. "'Undercover Boss' gave me the opportunity to show this."


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Lisa Johnson Mandell

Lisa Johnson Mandell

Editor

Lisa Johnson Mandell is an award-winning multi-media journalist and author of Career Comeback--Repackage Yourself to Get the Job You Want.  Her work has been translated into 20 different languages, and she is a frequent expert guest and commentator on news and talk shows. She has been featured in The Wall St. Journal, on the CBS Early Show, NBC Today, CNBC, Fox Business News, Dr. Phil, Oprah.com and many other media outlets.  Lisa discusses her AOL pieces each week and interviews vital guests on the web TV show, This Week in Careers. Learn more on LisaJohnsonMandell.com.

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Marilyn Veincentotzs

Regarding 100 worse bosses of 2010 story:
There are so many bully bosses who destroy the lives of workers and their families. Asher of eBossWatch.com is commended for his Herculean task of researching and choosing a
Final list of 100 worse bosses from over 250 with his panel of bully boss experts. More employees should weigh in on Asher's site if they have a bully boss. You can list your boss' name anonymously.

December 22 2010 at 11:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dave

OMG! Does nobody see that this show is pure corporate sponsored propaganda? Don't you see a pattern in the very show itself?

1. CEO is a kind and giving FAMILY MAN/WOMAN who wants to make a difference.
2. Scenes of CEO talking with board members about improving things for Johnny lunch pail.
3. Happy family interactions within CEO's family.
4. CEO stays at low to mid income range Motel.
5. CEO dons disquise
6. CEO clumsily interacts with the common worker.
7. CEO listens to hard luck stories told by low income types. Amount of tears vary depending on CEO.
8. CEO meets with the best brown nosers and those with the whiniest sob stories.
9. CEO gives $$$...promotion...award to best brown noser.
10. CEO plays lame gag reel for employee gathering.
11. CEO makes very nominal changes to problems spotted and we all hear about the vacations or improvements made by CEO in various brown nosers lives.

NOW! Plug ANY CEO into this format and you have another show,
And the two tiered Class system is safe for another day.
For the peasents are not going to revolt.
The peasents are no longer very well educated.
The peasents will allow these kindly CEOs to bust unions that once protected them. But, alas, the Unions have been bought out as well.
The peasents stand idly by as their civil liberties are slowly stripped away.
But, that's okay....Undercover Boss is almost on again!

December 06 2010 at 7:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
flilguy

I stopped watching "Undercover Boss" after the second show. I think it is very very staged, and most of the employees know that there is something going on. If some new employee showed up and there was a crew of camera people everywhere would you react in your usual way?

December 06 2010 at 7:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steve Ward

Well, well, what is it like to work with a peter? Under "The Most Dangerous Jobs To Date" in the above article it states that Slipsager got the chance to work with a peter. Now you would have to pay me tons and tones of money before I worked with a PETER!!!! LOL

December 06 2010 at 7:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
tom

9/11 -the inside Job
Buildings Were IMPLODED and Alot of Americans STILL don't know the truth
a missile hit the pentagon and Flight 93 did NOT crash in Shanksville

December 06 2010 at 6:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dot

I love this program.It seems to be the true reality show.It's good to see those at the top are able to find out what is really going on in their company.When will a female boss show up?

December 06 2010 at 6:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
roland

this is a GREAT show.....i work nights and look forward to monday mornings to watch it on my cables on-demand.....i was very upset when it didn't come on last week....life changing events for most....what a chance for KENNY. love this show....can't wait till next week.

December 06 2010 at 6:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to roland's comment
Jerome

You are not very intelligent are you? To actually waste your time watching such garbage TV, doesn't say a lot about you or all the other people that waste their time vegging away on such s**t.

December 06 2010 at 6:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
edzel

I love this show and unfortunately I missed this episode. I have known of ABM since one of my previous jobs' duties included having to deal with them. In "hard to find a parking space" San Francisco, you'll find AMPCO parking lots around every few blocks in the city. What this undercover boss did was noble for all the rewards to the employees he worked with. Not just CEOs but upper managers and executives should go undercover to see what the lower level workers are doing and what they are contributing to the company and single out the outstanding employees. It would be a good start and goes a long way to having positive employee morale.

December 06 2010 at 6:15 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to edzel's comment
Katie Linder

I never reply to things like this, but I am going to now in order to try to mediate the sides here. No doubt there is a "TV propaganda" trying to promote a new kind of "reality" show, but at the same time, this show touches on something very REAL and not so "openly" dramatic part in business. In addition, it gets to the heart of major issues we all face in our work, the status that prevents us from appreciating the "other side" (either the blue collar workers to the boss, or the high-end white collar corporate executive to the one cleaning their space). We all go through this - one way or another.

I love my job. I love to work. I am very educated with several Bachelors, doctorate experience, and a Masters, but I always work best for a company I can relate with - and one I feel can relate with me. Honestly, a company that believes in me becomes a company that I will go to the ends of the Earth for. No lie.

So all of this ragging on the corporate propaganda of this show really alludes me... not that there is not corporate propaganda, but rather people who are so focused onto status pro-quo that refuse to see the good, or kind, in much anything else.

Bosses, CEOs, and any "upper level" employee also has an immense amount of stress and pressure. It is undeniably different than hard labor jobs (that I would fight for any day of the week), but it is not easy, just different.

We all create our lives and live within the bounds we think we can, and we judge so much the life, the strife, and laziness, and ambivalence of our neighbors. But have we ever knocked on the door next door and said hello?

I hope so. Because I believe you will meet someone standing across from you with a story harder than your own. And I believe (honestly) that knowing what other people go through will build your courage and strength.

Thus said, don't knocked such shows, granted typical "2011 reality series" because they want to highlight the divide between the white collar executive and blue collar hourly - There are many exceptions, but the stereotypes exists.

I could go on, but I'm happy to be in my small home, and thankful to be warm and fed (seriously, no lie, this comes from the very utmost sincere part of me). I just wish others took a second to not worry about whatever people don't believe in them, and did take a 20 minute break to see someone so impressed with what they do.

June 08 2011 at 10:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Katie Linder's comment
Katie Linder

Please forgive the grammatical errors. It's late...

June 08 2011 at 10:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
danwat1234

9/11 was an inside job. Check out the huge amount of video footage made by people living in nearby apartment buildings and on the streets during that day.

Open your eyes

December 06 2010 at 5:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
b.borders

Many years ago I was in line to become President of a large Service company. We competed daily with ABM and eventually ran them out of a major city. What continues to surprise me about "Undercover Boss" is in most all cases the CEO has little knowledge and less ability to do the Jobs their companies sell. In all my years in the service business, ther was never a JOB that I could not perform. This includes Janitorial, Security and Pest control. I believe like in Congress there are very few individual who are qualified to do their jobs. How can a Ceo, know if "all is well" in the organization, if they do not know every phase of the operation. Most company CEO's and our Politicians are "flying by the seat of their pants" and the rest of use have to support them. Did I ever get the President Job? Several months before my promotion, my wife decided to break up the family. Henrik, was correct, "balancing family and Job" is most difficult. Most times it is the wife hanging in there.

December 06 2010 at 5:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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