Seafood CEO Takes Fleet From Fishnets To Internet On 'Undercover Boss'

Undercover Boss seafood Brent BodalWorking on a fishing boat is a demanding, solitary job. So it came as no surprise that Bernt Bodal, the CEO of American Seafoods, cut a laconic figure straight out of a Clint Eastwood movie during his turn Friday on "Undercover Boss." Bodal's personal career trajectory reflects a similarly rugged path: Only after working for 13 years as a deckhand on company boats did he ascend to the executive suite.

"I am a little surprised at how little some CEOs know about their company," Bodal said in an interview with AOL Jobs. "We have a management team that grew up with this business, like me. It's very important that executives understand what makes employees tick. And it definitely gains me more respect."

But by Bodal's own admission, he wouldn't have hired himself after his performance at four of his company's workplaces. The Norwegian-born Bodal posed as Bjorn Peterson, someone who was considering immigrating to the United States as part of a reality show called "American Dreams." But his experience posing as one of his workers was closer to a nightmare. Not only did he flub basic tasks, he was on the receiving end of the most feared insult in the hyper-macho fishing industry -- he was called "feminine."

It was the unforgiving maintenance manager at a processing facility in New Bedford, Mass., who made that assessment when he sent "Bjorn" to clean the fish pit. The reason? Bjorn thought the water in the pit was too hot. The rest of Bjorn's performance left the manager, John, equally unimpressed; John told the camera that Bjorn's work is doubling the time he would need to complete the task. And the bar for success was to be particularly high for Bjorn, John warned, given his status as an immigrant. After all, John would know: He emigrated from Portugal.

Bjorn was equally at a loss during other assignments that required him to tap into skill sets for which he had no background. While working at a fishmeal plant on the Alaskan coast, he let down the foreman, Rafal, by failing to correctly measure the amount of fishmeal to be placed in each bag. Such an error leads to problems for the bottom line, Bjorn was told. And while working with a packer of surimi, a minced fish spam used to make products like crab legs, Bjorn was booted from the task of lining up the packages. He was simply not fast enough, said another worker, Susana, who noted, "you don't want to p--- off the foreman."

When placed in a situation that should be more familiar, working as a deckhand off the Alaskan coast, Bjorn succeeded in maintaining his cover. Billy, who trained him, floated the idea that Bjorn was too old for the gig, and indeed, Bodal hadn't worked on a boat since 1989. Such a 22-year lapse during middle age would take its requisite physical toll on anyone, and Bodal is no different. The job is "harder than I remember," Bjorn even added. But Billy piled on, even questioning Bjorn's technique.

The across-the-board low grades for Bjorn's performance is in direct contrast with Bodal's actual life story. He flew planes to visit several of the sites. And flying is just one of the skills he put on display during the episode. The renaissance man arrived in America in 1978, fresh from Scandinavia, without even a dime to call his own. Working as a deckhand meant facing some "very hairy moments" and regular sea temperatures of 10 below. Indeed, it was a different industry back then. "It's not comparable," he told AOL Jobs. "I used to work on a deadly boat. We would work 36 straight hours. Now it's much more regulated. We even have a professional chef on our ships. It's like comparing a mouse and an elephant." In his spare time, Bodal also developed quite the rock career, we learn. As a guitarist for the band Host, he's played alongside the likes of Roger Daltrey of The Who.

It was with the bravado of a true rock 'n' roller that Bodal climbed the ranks of American Seafoods. At the end of the '80s, and with no significant management experience, his group successfully bought out the then-owners. Leading a company with a staff of 1,400 people, annual sales of $450 million and clients like McDonald's has not changed him, he declared. "I am a fisherman who became a CEO."

And it's not just empty words. He showed himself to be anything but a cost-cutter by announcing during the reveal that he will install Internet access on all company boats. The decision will cost him $200,000, and was motivated by witnessing the solitude of living on the boats in the digital age.

Bodal also showed a solidarity with the other international members of his staff. John, the Portuguese native from the processing facility, was given $10,000 to take his family to visit his homeland. Bodal was equally charitable with Rafal, for whom he ponied up $25,000 for his family's eventual immigration, while also giving $5,000 for English lessons. The treatment was the same for Susana: a plane ticket and $5,000 so she can visit her family in Samoa, from whom she is estranged. Also of note was Bodal's decision to put up $10,000 for a charity of Billy's choosing in honor of his 72-year-old mother, who is afflicted with multiple sclerosis.

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These reality shows are a bunch of crap. These people are only doing a very few things to get people to think how great they are. They use it as advertisement to get you to buy their products ,go to their parks or stores. If you are shown three of these people there a hundred that get the same tretement in these large companies and nothing changes it is all about the money. These companies don't care about the people they exploit and use not even after being exposed. They just want you to think they have done something so you come to spend money in their compinies. If they would treat all employees fairly and equal their companies would explode with growth because word of mouth is the best salesman ever.

March 05 2012 at 4:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Who Cares!

February 27 2012 at 10:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

this show is the biggest farce on tv. just crap

February 27 2012 at 8:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well, Did he kick their asses after he revealed himself ?

February 27 2012 at 7:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tom's Mom

I watch the show and it proves to me over and over that the upper managment does not know what it takes to do the "grunt" work. Does not matter if your burger flipper, server, construction worker, what ever, the upper mucky mucks have no idea what we do and how it gets done. Give us stupid rules and expect them to be followed. Raise the sales but put it on sale for less money.

February 27 2012 at 6:40 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Tom's Mom's comment

Mom - the reverse can also be said. The deck hands and line workers would probably take quite some time to learn how to manage and effectively run a big business. There's a learning curve for every task.
Often the "stupid rules" are put in place as international, state/provincial, and/or local laws and regulations. As Mr. Bodal stated, things have changed a lot, particularly in areas of safety.

February 27 2012 at 8:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is one of the most BS reality shows. You can carry it off a couple of times but after 1 1/2 now all employees know...even those at sea for 6 bring a camera crew and all your staff has to do the first day is google their company! And this is the lead in to a great show "Gifted Man" with low ratings...because of this show. DUH! Not believable one iota.

February 27 2012 at 6:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

At 73 , I still drive class 8 construction trucks,loaders,dozers,blades,etc. ,but a 10 or 12 hour day is a bit hard.

February 27 2012 at 5:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"....Working as a deckhand meant facing some "very hairy moments" and regular sea temperatures of 10 below." I did not realize that sea water could get to 10 below.....

February 27 2012 at 4:58 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

ARMCHCHAIR Quaterbacks could use this story

February 27 2012 at 4:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well, I think there was a lot more to be taken away from this opportunity to integrate with crews and find the job "tough" 22 years out. There are jobs I've had that are honestly young men's gigs and it wouldn't be a surprise that I couldn't do them as I used to. Bodal could've instituted a mentor training period instead of "trial by fire", a bonus system for making grade, and instituted safety training. Just watching the crab fishing on another show seemed to offer more insights to me than he apparently received while actually being there and having had previous experience. Internet is fine if scheduled by the captain in down time, but if it interferes with the ability to obtain sleep etc., (internet addiction) the time spent on line should be considered without looking at an employee's surfing info which could be prejudicial. It could also be used for other things condusive to the company (training, information, upgrades in processes/procedures, technical info) or educationally for crew members who'd like it (free GED's, or Citizenship, company paid classes, etc.). It was nice to pay for what he did - but the job itself could've used some changes also.

February 27 2012 at 4:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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