'Undercover Boss': MasTec CEO Gets Choked Up Recalling Famous Dad
Jose Mas is the CEO of MasTec, the $2.8 billion infrastructure giant that his late father, Jorge Mas Canosa, founded and built. Jorge Mas Canosa, widely considered to be a top leader of the anti-Fidel Castro movement in Miami, signed up as a young man to take part in the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion, and went on to serve as an adviser on Cuban affairs to Presidents Reagan, Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton. There's even a major street named after him in Miami.
And as Mas recalled on Friday's episode, which wrapped up the third season for the popular CBS reality series, he grew up in awe of his father, who began his career in the U.S. washing dishes in hotels. He died in 1997. "A couple hundred thousand" people came out in the streets of Miami for his father's funeral to pay their respects, he said. "That moment showed me the impact he had in his life," Mas said. "My dad was an incredible man, someone I'd love to be like."
Hugh, a 15-year veteran of the company, cut an avuncular presence in the field as he upgraded transmission lines. Jose Mas, pretending to be "Manny Medina," a recently fired high school basketball coach appearing on a "second chances" reality show, listened as Hugh described the company's -- and Jorge Mas Canosa's -- humane response when he injured himself on the job. Years ago, Hugh was installing a line when he broke his ankle, and his eyes began hemorrhaging, he said. "MasTec treated me real good," Hugh said, remembering that Jorge Mas Canosa had told him that the company was there for him for anything he needed. The father even visited Hugh in the hospital during a trip to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, the son told AOL Jobs.
But Hugh told "Manny" that the current leadership doesn't show that same connection with the rank-and-file. "I wish they could get out and see everybody a lot more," he said.
It was the second site visit in a row in which Jose Mas heard his workers express disappointment with management. While in Dallas, and working with Rick, a gas foreman, as they upgraded steel pipes installed in the 1920s, Mas learned that workers were a lot happier in the past. The workers have almost no incentive to do a good job -- the company's bonus program is ineffectual, Rick told him. And, he added, it's "almost impossible" to complete three gas-line upgrades a day, as the company expects.
Those two encounters were enough to make Mas emotional, as seen above, which from all appearances is not a natural state for him. (Everywhere he turned, his workers described the man posing as "Manny" as "soft-spoken.") Indeed, his reticence contrasts with most of the other bosses who've appeared on the show.
It's a group that would not be described as subdued. There was Rick Silva, another Cuban-American, who shut down a branch of his Checkers and Rally's fast food chain after finding it a mess, with staff barking orders at each other. And then there was Stephen Cloobeck, who couldn't help but reveal himself to a call-center worker in his Diamond Resorts chain -- after the worker had failed to implement Cloobeck's "meaning of yes" doctrine: Never let a phone call end without the offer of alternative vacation packages.
Jose Mas got choked up right after talking to Hugh. "Fourteen years later, [my dad] is still teaching me lessons," he said. "If it meant that much to Hugh, I ... need to be more visible."
Better In The Office Than In The Field
Despite the mixed reviews he received from his staff on the show, Jose Mas has presided over MasTec's economic success. After becoming its chief executive in 2007, he helped usher a turnaround, tripling revenues, and was named by Ernst & Young as the 2011 Entrepreneur of the Year in the real estate, construction and lodging sectors.
"You know because I have 'Mas,' in my last name, and because I am young, I had to prove myself," the 40-year old said in an interview with AOL Jobs. "But it's all about results. My father was a larger-than-life figure. And he doesn't get enough credit for his business acumen in addition to his politics. So I had to meet a very high bar, but that was fine, because I am one of the most competitive human beings you'll ever meet."
One of his new initiatives was to push alternative energy, so he was happy to visit a wind farm during the show. Trekking to American Falls, Idaho, Mas worked with Wendy, an operator of heavy machinery, helping to construct wind turbines. Once it's completed, the farm he was working on will power 37,000 homes, he noted. For her part, Wendy was proud to work on a project that could help the country wean itself off foreign oil, because, as she said, "There's enough in our United States to help us."
But she was less impressed with Mas' work as "Manny." "Some people have it, some people don't," was how she described his efforts at operating the machinery, including a bulldozer. He didn't disagree. "I think I made more hills than I straightened it out," he said. "I think I do other things better than operate equipment."
His ineptitude in the field was also apparent from his very first site visit, working with high voltage electric installations in Fort Myers, Fla. Working with brothers Alex and Kelvin Duran, "Manny" was no use in helping to install the pad mount transformer stations used to power houses. He's too slow, and has no dexterity with the wires and cables. The brothers, who performed a sort of variety show during their appearance, Caribbean dancing and all, came down hard on "Manny." "He reminds me of my dentist," Kelvin said. And as for his bleach-blond-hair disguise? "Manny reminds me of an older, less cooler version of Eminem," Alex said.
They even hazed him, pretending that they were electrocuted during the installation. But during the reveal, he sought to exact a little, playful revenge. "Leadership is about not getting rattled," he said in his interview with AOL Jobs. "I am not going to go around barking orders. You look to be consistent. And that has a calming effect." Indeed, he only pretended he was angry about the incident from earlier, but in fact, he told the the brothers they will get a free ride to attend a program to become certified electrical linemen. He also told Rick that he will adjust the bonus program so that it actually leads to actual employee bonuses. Mas also told Rick that he will pay for his upcoming wedding and honeymoon in the form of $20,000. For Wendy, she will get all the medical help and time off she needs to fix her teeth that have rot as a result of her fibromyalgia. Mas also told her that he will pay off all her debts, which are around $30,000.
But it was still his father's legacy that inspired him during the reveal. Just as his father had done by creating scholarships and foundations in the Miami area, Mas told the Dominican-born brothers Alex and Kelvin that they are role models for the Latin community in Miami. And so he will start a scholarship in their name, which will set aside $25,000 each year for education for a Hispanic-student of their choosing. "If I ever make it big, I want to do the same thing you are doing," Kelvin told him.
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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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