Home Improvement CEO Gets Misty-Eyed On 'Undercover Boss'
The pious chief executive of The Dwyer Group weeps when she finds out about her employees' woes on this Sunday's "Undercover Boss." The two-time Emmy nominated CBS reality show is now in its third season, and took its viewers Down South this past weekend. And for the season's second episode, Southern hospitality was shown very early to be a central tenet of the episode's featured company. Based out of Waco, Texas, The Dwyer Group is the parent company of seven franchises including Mr. Rooter and Mr. Appliance.
Overseeing a meeting of employees from the upper ranks of her company, CEO Dina Dwyer-Owens (pictured at top) prompts her lieutenants to recite the company's code of values. Morality is demonstrated to be vital to Dwyer-Owens from her several church visits. And by rote, her workers more than oblige her at the company meeting. With military precision, they take turns preaching the company philosophy: "We are treated how we want to be treated."
Indeed, Dwyer-Owens then goes on camera to explain the company's four guiding pillars, which include "respect, integrity, customer focus, and having fun in the process." In practice, all this means a 14-step guide that must be followed by the electricians, carpenters and other employees who make worksite visits on behalf of Dwyer-Owens.
That covers 10,000 employees nationwide, who do $800 million in business a year at 1,560 locations. Dwyer-Owens, who worked in the real estate division before ascending to the top post, is the daughter of the company's founder, the now deceased Don Dwyer Sr.
She readily acknowledges having confronted the challenge of being the "boss' daughter," and says that questions regarding her own merit would always follow her. Perhaps as a reaction to that role, Dwyer-Owens learned over the years to overcompensate, and developed a sincerity and lack of imperiousness in sitting atop her group. As she heads off to her first assignment, Dwyer-Owens turns to the camera, and says that she looks forward to getting feedback from her company's front-line workers so as to know how to best make improvements.
Her first of four gigs takes her to Roswell, Ga., where in impersonating a job applicant (who introduces herself as "Faith Brown"), the CEO confronts unhappiness with a company-wide compensation model. Brown is brought to the Peach State for an apprenticeship with Mr. Rooter, which produces 70 percent of The Dwyer Group's revenue. She is slated to install a water heater with a man named Wayne.
Wayne expresses his loyalty to the recognizable brand in discussing his job, and says he is proud to work for the brand that once employed his father. But he is not thrilled with how he is paid by The Dwyer Group. He tells of a compensation scheme based on commission, but from which "material" is taken out each cycle to account for costs. Wayne mentions one employee who, he says, ended up owing the company money, and Wayne refers to the model as "shady." And when Wayne talks about his family, which includes an autistic child, Dwyer-Owens tears up. This is the first time of many when the CEO cries, and in each instance she eventually addresses the cause of her concern with corrective action.
But it's hard to imagine she had no idea how her company pays its employees in its largest franchise, or it's at least indicative of an uninvolved executive.
Her second visit takes her to Germantown, Tenn., where another sad tale brings an earnest Dwyer-Owens to tears. Jake, an employee of Ground Guys, is a profile in courage. He has been mowing lawns and doing other landscape work since he was 8 years old. Now 20, Jake helps watch after his brothers after their father committed suicide. He tells the story with a steely reserve well beyond his years. When Dwyer-Owens recounts her reaction to Jake's story, she says it got her "heart racing," and it's not hard to see why.
On her third visit, Dwyer-Owens faces the most formidable challenge to her philosophy and work code yet. In Deer Park, Texas, an employee of Mr. Electrician, named Brock, drives her around to jobs with his truck. They are to do upkeep at the Magnolia Ballroom. On the car ride he dismisses the 14 steps that all employees must follow. Customers are "more focused on business," Brock says. The "customer is not really into all that," but rather is "more focused on getting it done than on how it gets done." Dwyer-Owens sits there with a blank face and takes it. She is forced to accept that a guideline that includes laying out a welcome mat for all customers may not always extend beyond the boardroom.
The fourth and final leg of the show brings her more satisfaction. Traveling to Conroe, Texas, Dwyer-Owens is set up to work with Mr. Appliance. Her stint as a service technician is very different than all her other gigs in one glaring respect -- she's to work with a woman -- identified as Tanna. "We have so few in any of our brands -- this is cool, I just didn't expect it," Dwyer-Owens says. Working with Tanna, Dwyer-Owens helps fix an oven.
Tanna says that older customers are less hospitable to female technicians, something that Dwyer-Owens got a hint of in her own home: At the episode's start, her husband said that he expected tension resulting from his wife's gender when she worked these technical jobs.
But Dwyer-Owens says that she wants more women to be able to make a living off of "working with their hands" -- if that's what they want. And she makes that desire the focal point of the program's final chapter -- the reveal. She tells the employees that she was in fact not a contestant on a reality show featuring career changes but rather one that disguises the CEO.
In talking to her compadre, Tanna, Dwyer-Owens tells her that she wants her help in launching an apprenticeship program for women. Dwyer-Owens ponies up $5,000 for the program. But she also gives Tanna $10,000 for each of her children to start a college fund, so Tanna can spend time at home without picking up a second job.
Dwyer-Owens also shows a desire to grow her employees in her dealings with Jake, the 20-year old. She gives him a new truck, and tells him that she wants him to start a new franchise for Ground Guy.
Dwyer-Owens also accepts the criticism from Wayne over compensation, and says it will be adjusted. She gives Wayne $20,000 for a down payment on his home.
Where she is less generous is with Brock. She urges him to give the 14-step model a try. The only gift that she has for him is a gift certificate so that he can brand his truck with a decal. Not quite a life-changer, but also not a pink slip for the man who dismissed the company ethic right to the CEO's face.
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Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.
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