'Undercover Boss': Cinnabon CEO Gives Sweet Surprise to Franchise Manager
Every so often a company is populated with great workers who go way beyond the call of duty.
They show up ready to do their best, regardless of what's going on in their personal lives.
Of course not all 11,000 workers of Cinnabon Inc. could possibly fit that bill, but the four who were profiled on this week's episode of "Undercover Boss," the second of the fourth season of the CBS show, certainly did.
Cinnabon President Kat Cole was the boss who went undercover -- as "Alexa," an aspiring baker appearing on a career makeover show -- with one of Cole's goals being to visit a Cinnabon outlet in a mall in Paramus, N.J. She wanted to know why that franchise managed to keep increasing its annual sales despite strong competition.
It became clear to Cole that Miguel, a manager there, was a big reason why. Miguel goes full court press in wooing customers -- for instance, by offering free samples to lure new customers -- a strategy that Cole saw work as 9 out of 10 passersby who tried the samples then went on to purchase items.
There was more. Miguel organized his staff to perform a song-and-dance routine, as if his franchise was a variety show. "The energy that's created is a net positive," Cole observed. (As a reward for his stellar management, Cole went on to reward Miguel with his very own Cinnabon franchise, as seen in the video above.)
There was also the case of Mayra, a supervisor at a Wayne, N.J.-based Cinnabon. Mayra was conscientious and zealous about protecting the company's interests while training "Alexa." Whenever taking an order from a customer, Mayra announced the change by saying, "your total is only," in the obvious hope they'd add to their order.
"She's a little commando," was how Cole described Mayra's energy behind the counter. Mayra was equally military in the way she inspected "Alexa's" hair, trying to make sure no strands were at risk falling into Cinnabon products.
"Alexa's mistake is not wanting to take direction," was how Mayra characterized her "mentee."
And then there was Erica, a coffee hostess who uses the name "Moka" as she works at a Cinnabon in Carmel Church, Va. When Erica found out that a customer was a diabetic, she searched for an unfrosted Cinnabon to serve her. (It was at this store that Cole's identity was nearly revealed, though, as a customer asked point blank if the video production there was part of an "Undercover Boss" episode. Though Cole's poker face wasn't very convincing, Moka didn't see through it.)
Cole rose to the top of Cinnabon (which has 900 stores in 40 countries) despite a tough childhood and never graduating from college. While growing up in Jacksonville, Fla., with her two sisters, her mother separated from their father, a veteran of the Vietnam War whose life was spiraling out of control from alcohol abuse. The four moved away, and Cole said on the show that she, her mother and her sisters got by on a budget of $10 a week.
Cole said that at a young age she decided not to let her life be ruined by a challenging upbringing, and that it instead became "driver" for her to succeed. After starting out as a Hooters waitress at age 19, she became a vice president of that company just seven years later. She spent 15 years at Hooters, taking part in missions that included the company's expansion into new countries like Australia. And she learned to embrace a tough persona, evidenced at one point during the episode by he calling her employees "wussies."
That brass-knuckles approach, perhaps vital in overseeing a company that nets half a billion dollars in revenue a year, seems to mask a tenderness, though.
Before her appearance on the show, Cole asked Coby Brooks, a former CEO of Hooters who had appeared on "Undercover Boss," for advice about participating in the series. "There will be lows," he warned her.
And there were. While working on a factory line with Linda, a machine operator at a Cinnabon plant in Stoughton, Wisc., Cole found workers staring her down. "I am kind of screwing everything up," she said. Speaking into the camera after her frustrations at Stoughton, Cole spoke movingly, though, about Linda's experience raising her granddaughter after her daughter abdicated responsibility.
"Undercover Boss" is sometimes derided as being a mere public relations setup. And while that's untrue, even if it were, Cole would rival Meryl Streep in how she poured out her soul while sharing her thoughts on Linda and the other workers. She said tearfully that she was moved by how her workers were "making a positive difference in people's lives."
In the reveal, Cole paid tribute to her staff by telling Linda, the machine operator, that she would make sure that unused Cinnabon products from the plant are sent to people in need. She also told Linda that she'll be setting up an education fund for Marciel, the grandchild she's raising, that will start with $10,000, and any money placed in the fund by Linda will be doubled by Cole.
A similar fund will be set up for Erica and her three daughters, who will get $10,000 for education seed money. She told Mayra, "You have to know how good it makes me feel as president of a company" to see her carry herself with such a "sense of confidence," and so Cole promised that Cinnabon will support a breast cancer fundraiser in which will the company will match every dollar raised by Mayra and her mother.
Along with the Cinnabon franchise that Cole awarded Miguel, she told him that she plans to make a training video out of his Cinnabon song-and-dance routine so that all staffers can use it.
"We would not be doing this if we didn't believe you'd be 100 percent successful," she said in awarding Miguel a store. "I will pay it forward."
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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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