'Undercover Boss' Twist: Yankee Candle CEO Has Cover Blown

Harlan Kent Undercover Boss Yankee CandleNo one likes getting found out -- especially if you're a CEO working undercover to find out what it's really like to be a worker in your company. But when Harlan Kent, the president and CEO of the Yankee Candle Company, found his cover blown in "Undercover Boss" this week, it was an opportunity to demonstrate the kind of cool-headedness people want in a chief executive. The revelation marked the first such outing during the current season, the third for the CBS series. A similar incident occurred last season, according to the network.

It's hard to know how the show was edited for this go-round, or whether producers may have stepped in to advise Kent. Was it really his instinct to pull aside a sales associate named Blaze and talk straight with him about his real identity? Or did producers coach Kent? In any event, during the opening segment of this past Friday's episode, Blaze immediately voiced his suspicions about the man whom claimed his name was Dan Johnson, an out-of-work chef appearing on a second chances reality show.

"He seems too good at the situation," the bespectacled, rail-thin Blaze told the camera during his training session with "Dan." The pair were working at the wax hand station at the company's flagship store in South Deerfield, Mass. "He already knows what to do."

Indeed, Kent did. Having spent 11 years working with the world's largest candle manufacturer, and the last 2½ as its chief executive, "Johnson" knew a thing or two about the business.


An Undercover Boss' Cover Nearly Blown

It was a rare moment for the series -- that the chief executive isn't clueless as a field worker, and that he's found out as a result. The ease with with "Johnson" deftly guided customers through the recreational wax hand stand, showing them how to dip the candles and then add color, raised a red flag for Blaze. And this in spite of the Ronald McDonald-like disguise worn by Kent. And so Blaze confided to co-workers that he suspected this must be part of some "Undercover Boss" show. Seeing the suspicion grow among the employees forced Kent's hand, and he said he was uncomfortable not telling the truth.

A bummer for Blaze, since he had just told "Dan" that sometimes he felt like "punching" the 8-year-olds at the store. Not quite the customer service strategy the CEO is hoping for. But whereas other bosses appearing on the series have blown up when confronted with lapses in customer service, Kent took Blaze aside and told him he'd like to spend more time with him. "This is very important to me," he said to his employee, even though at the top of the show, he'd told the camera that it would break his heart if his staffers were rude.

Three other members of his 6,400-member staff, however, were exemplary workers. Jose, who works on the line at the company's plant in Whately, Mass., kept the company's image in mind while labeling candles. Customers don't expect or deserve to see crooked or misapplied labels after purchasing a store product, he said, and so he makes sure they are presentable. And he said he packages 7,000 to 8,000 candles a day.

"Megan ... has taken ownership of the store," Kent said about his next trainer, the manager at a Yankee Candle store in Peachtree City, Ga. She was concerned about the store's appearance and even complained to corporate about cracks in the store's facade. No one responded. She also showed Kent how to maximize the space offered by the store by showing him how to properly arrange the candles. And Megan is happy as a manager to take part in the offering of coupons to customers outside the store.

The shaggy-haired Dan, who works in retail at a Yankee Candle store in Center Valley, Pa., has an off-beat spunkiness that's pitch perfect for a boutique industry like candles. "Have a Yankee candle-rific day," Dan tells his customers after ringing them up. And so he was patient with "Dan Johnson" when the supposedly aspiring retail worker allowed a display to fall apart moments before the store's opening. For Kent, a self-described "type-A personality," this was exactly the opposite he was hoping for from his appearance on the show.

"I was nervous about not being able to do the job," Kent said during an interview with AOL Jobs. "That's the number one thing. I didn't want to embarrass them and show that I was bad at things, that the CEO can't figure things out. I was really worried about being clumsy."

While Kent displayed an uncommon dexterity handling the wax hands, he was nevertheless new to activities such as product stocking and bathroom cleaning. Such a division of labor, to be expected for a company that hauls in $730 million in annual revenue, is nevertheless a dramatic departure from the humble beginnings of the Yankee Candle Company. When 17-year-old Mike Kittredge couldn't afford to buy a candle for his mother back in 1969, he melted crayons to make it for her. From there, grew a candle empire now counting 552 stores.

And such an environment is not fit for expletives, the Greenwich, Conn.- and Dartmouth-bred Kent instructed Blaze at the top of the reveal. "Drop it from everyday use" he told him after sitting down a for second tete-a-tete. Blaze goes on to note that he has grown up in a troubled house with an alcoholic father. Kent's reaction to this was similar to how he handled his cover being blown; he doubled down and said he'd like to take Blaze under his wing to move him to another job, which he'd find more exciting. It's an open question if he'd have been as magnanimous if CBS cameras weren't rolling.

The rest of the reveal was easy. Jose, the label-expert, was given $5,000 to spend as he pleases, and another $10,000 for his boxing gym -- where he welcomes troubled youth. He was also told he's being tapped for a leadership role. Kent hoped the latter decision will change the image of the company characterized by Jose as home to a "kiss-up" mobility model.

Megan, the coupon-offering manager, was told her store will be renovated, a move which elicited her applause. She also got an all-expense-paid trip for her family. And $20,000 for medical bills to help her get a better grip on her epilepsy, as well as access to top medical care. Dan, the greeter extraordinaire, got $10,000 for his student loans. And another $15,000 to help out his family, which will be especially appreciated given that his beloved father died last year of kidney failure. Hearing about that loss motivated Kent to proceed from his appearance on "Undercover Boss" to a fishing trip with his own father.



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Tyler John Ward

Word on the street in South Deerfield is he is running the business in to the ground. Add that the 1st CEO Mike's Son has his own rival Candle Company now, looks like Yankee Candles might go out of business.

April 23 2013 at 6:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
joshua981

I can't watch undercover boss because every show the "boss" find's some poor down on his luck extremely hard worker and the guy just spill's his gut's to the guy even though they are stranger's. Also they are alway's in a car or walking down the street. Where are the camera's? These people have to know they are being filmed. How could they not know? I don't see how this show can be any less than a complete fake.

September 09 2012 at 12:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
marypoppins2204

J think they need to start putting hidden cameras and a hidden Mic and stuff like that so everyone doesn't know.

May 07 2012 at 12:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
M

last week the golf club maker had his cover blown. Whooppee. He made the best of it. As people watch the show they know if a film crew shows up with someone considering a career change to film... that they need to google an image of their CEO.
The show has lost it's surprise.

April 14 2012 at 12:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Linda

my question is this...........wouldnt one wonder why film crews are following around a "new employee"

April 11 2012 at 11:30 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Linda's comment
David

No one's hiding any cameras--they tell the employees up front that they're filming a show about people considering a career change, or winning a second chance at running a business. "camera angles simply are NOT possible" Great sleuthing.

April 12 2012 at 10:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
brbrbca

Some of these shows are pretty interesting. I wonder if people that know of this show don't already suspect Undercover Boss from watching the show? I would.

April 02 2012 at 10:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Earl

I`d rather watch reruns of Gilligan`s Island........it`s more interesting and I still get a laugh from Gilligan`s antic!!!!

April 02 2012 at 10:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
June

This is season three. . . how stupid do the producers think employees are when "someone from a reality show" is trying to start a new career...Ya think that don't know it's Undercover Boss? And (thinking of the Yankee Candle show) do you think the remaining 6,397 employees don't feel a little cheated that they didn't receive some nice health care benefits? or some money for a vacation?
Thinking that reality tv is getting really, REALLY old. Undercover Boss is the same show, different company every week. Bor-ing!

April 02 2012 at 10:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
calico60

One of the lousiest shows there ever was. What happened to A Gifted Man?

April 02 2012 at 9:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to calico60's comment
June

Yeah! Where did that show go? It was good. Oh, wait. I think I just answered my own question. Good shows don't last.

April 02 2012 at 10:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joes Yellow Rose

This is such a waste of tv time. Same old stuff each week, 4 or 5 employees get thousands and the other employees are happy with the company? The show is a turn off for me buying Orential Trading items. This is a very stupid show.

April 02 2012 at 9:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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