No one gave United Van Lines CEO Rich McClure a hard time for having to bring his wife Sharon in to help him complete his 'Undercover Boss' duties. And even if they did, he wouldn't care -- once you've been married for 32 years, you're way past letting other people's comments affect you. Besides, he's used to having her call some of the shots: She was his boss when they first met.
Bringing the wife in was definitely an 'Undercover Boss' first, but McClure felt he had no choice -- he'd recently visited the agency where he was assigned to work, and feared they'd recognize him. In addition to that, he thought his long-time partner would have a unique perspective. After all, they moved five times in their first seven years of marriage, once when they had a toddler and a 6-week old baby.
"No matter who you are or where you are, there's a lot of stress involved in moving," McClure says. "One of the most important things I learned was how dedicated the workers are to making people's lives easier at a difficult time. They really care about meeting the many different needs the customers have."
A moving experience
On his first job, in Orlando, Fla., McClure found out just how difficult it is to meet those needs. He worked with Jimmy, a United van operator on a household move, which just about did him in. He struggled just to lift the fabric pads used to protect the furniture. He also had a hard time ripping the wrapping tape without too much physical exertion. So when it came time to actually move furniture -- well, let's just say McClure got one of the best workouts of his life.
Jimmy, however, hardly broke a sweat and shared with McClure that more than the physical strain, it was tough knowing that if he couldn't move a customer in the time and space the estimator had given, Jimmy would have to cover the difference out of his own pocket. And tougher still was being away from his wife and kids when he's on the road.
Once his identity was revealed, McClure attempted to help Jimmy by hastening the development of software that would better coordinate estimates with the mover. He also set up a video chat system for Jimmy so he can talk to his family when he's away, and in addition, McClure contributed $10,000 toward the education of Jimmy's three children.
In Baltimore, McClure worked at the Suddath United warehouse where they handle special, high-value products for large corporations. Together with Andrew, one of their youngest warehouse managers, he put shipments on pallets and lined them up for storage. Andrew didn't seem very interested in his job, took constant smoke breaks, and even disregarded his boss when he was asked to do a particular task. He also complained a lot.
Andrew knew that he'd be lucky to keep his job once he found out that McClure was the president of the company. McClure handled Andrew gently, but made it clear he was not pleased with Andrew's work habits. Instead of firing Andrew, McClure told him he was going to be checking up on him periodically. Andrew remained with the company, but had to be retrained.
Packing it in
McClure was much more impressed with Ronald and Ruth, the packing specialists he worked with in Stafford, Va. Originally from El Salvador, the married couple is "living the American dream," as one of United's best packing teams, and they took great pride and care with their work.
But they weren't as impressed with McClure. His gregarious nature and efforts to bring out their personal stories earned him stern looks, and finally an admonition to be more professional and stop chatting so much. They gave him the nickname "Walkie Talkie," and it seemed to stick.
Still, they confided in him their hopes and dreams -- a trip to Italy for the two of them, and a promotion for Ronald to driver, and a truck to go with it. McClure hastened those dreams when all was said and done, by sending them on an all-expenses-paid trip to Italy, picking up the tab for driver training for Ronald, and contributing $5,000 toward the purchase of his own truck.
No complaints from the complaint department
It was job No. 4, in New Berlin, Wisc., where McClure needed to call in his wife Sharon for the proverbial heavy lifting. She was happy to step up to the plate, and impressed with Linda, the claims manager, who had been in the same position for 28 years. She seemed to have developed a sixth sense for figuring out when a customer is trying to take advantage of the system, and when a customer has a legitimate complaint.
Linda explained how she handles claims on everything from priceless antiques to a 50 cent can of Coke, and Sharon noted that she always went to great lengths to be fair. But Linda shared that she didn't think the company was fair -- that it was a "good old boys' club," without much opportunity for women to advance. She also noted that she never took vacations.
Once the cat was out of the bag, McClure reaffirmed his company's commitment to the advancement of women, and assured Linda that they'd be more cognizant of it in the future. He also gave the single mother $10,000 toward her daughter's wedding expenses, which were coming up in the near future.
Being fair is a matter of pride with United, according to McClure, as the moving industry constantly struggles with tight margins and fluctuating gas prices. There are fuel surcharges for times like these, but major corporate clients prefer not to pay them, which can make things a bit awkward. Still, the McClures wouldn't trade their moving experiences in the industry for anything--they're truly united on that front.