'Undercover Boss': Cinnabon CEO Gives Sweet Surprise to Franchise Manager

Kat Cole Undercover Boss Cinnabon
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."

More: 'Undercover Boss': 5 Most Gripping Moments From Season 3

It later was revealed that Mayra's dedication stems, in part, from a desire to work hard for her mother, who's been diagnosed with breast cancer. As part of her work uniform, Mayra wears a pink handkerchief around her neck in honor of breast cancer research.

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 should know a thing or two about being an exemplary employee. As the youngest chief executive ever to appear on "Undercover Boss," the 34-year-old 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

Dan Fastenberg

Associate Editor

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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wordwan

I have never heard of this "Undercover Boss" program, but yeah, to me, it sounds like a lot of PR for somebody. In fact, it's a new kind of advertising for any company that wants to throw in the dough. Hm.

I was following the concept til it was mentioned that people had 'cameras'. That dismisses, to me, how real or effective the CEO AND the employee are being.

You can be anything you WANT if you know how to kiss a camera.

Phewie!

If a person wants to see what his company is doing, all he has to do is visit it. But he doesn't. He's busy being glad he got out from behind the front lines--NOT always, but generally--and he becomes some kind of 'pusher' of not real relationships, be it a paper pusher or a bean counter or a human resources person--there are SO many jobs that are dependent on these minimum wage worker maintaining their status in the ecosystem.

Heather
wordwan

Heather
wordwan, not impressed when the word 'reality' is attached to a t.v. show

Heather
wordwan

April 17 2013 at 1:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wordwan's comment
wordwan

Sure would be nice if you could edit your posts.

April 17 2013 at 1:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
KEITHIE POO

"Undercover Boss" is sometimes derided as being a mere public relations setup. And while that's untrue,.." or so you say. The author is as sucked into the emotion of the whole enterprise just as the audience is expected to be. And I have to add, I am frequently. The show that I hate to love, I feel totally manipulated emotionally. "Extreme Makeover, Franchise Edition." Never miss it :)

February 05 2013 at 9:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rmaguro

Great, she helped out 4 people. What about the other11,000 people that helped her to get where she is? When the cameras go away will she keep looking for people that need help among them or just smile and think that the free advertising was worth way more than what she handed out.

November 21 2012 at 2:31 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rmaguro's comment
wordwan

Hey. Here's a woman who started at Hooters. What is this telling you?

Cosmetic lifestyle. It's where you wanna be!

Heather
wordwan

April 17 2013 at 1:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
maskedblogger

Found it interesting that she gave the franchise to the guy who immigrated here. Her gifting was kind of unbalanced.

November 20 2012 at 8:55 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to maskedblogger's comment
wordwan

Well, I imagine, just like the people who judge, on "X-factor" she checked with a producer first to see what would be most marketable.

Kinda makes me wanna run out, have a baby, run up debt and get a disease. Seems to the the way to 'get' stuff in this world. By being 'broken' in some way.

If you're not 'broken' in some way, no one can make money 'fixing' you. *grin*

Heather
wordwan

April 17 2013 at 1:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tim Brigan

totally biased in that she only wanted to hear stories like her own..all done for drama and racists against the white man! total gender bia!

November 20 2012 at 4:24 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Tim Brigan's comment
niceguy71653

She could give me something and it wouldn't cost a dime.

November 20 2012 at 3:14 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
Robert Wood

Its a Good show and its entertaining, but that's all it is A SHOW and I do not think that any CEO or business themselves is that generous in giving out the kind of money you see them give on this show. I've been in the Entertainment Business and these shows are somewhat scripted and before any of these unsuspecting employees can be featured on the show they have to sign a consent contract and they are more then likely paid the bulk of these so called gits from their bosses by the network themselves. In the real work world this never happens and if it does its very rare. Most companies and Bosses are to cheap to care about giving their employees gifts of that nature. Remember people this is a show NOT REAL LIFE. Let Undercover Boss show proof that the employers is actually giving this money.

November 20 2012 at 12:49 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Robert Wood's comment
wordwan

Wow. Another amazing observation. I'm pretty quick on the uptake but even _I_ was thinking that the companies were using their own money to reward these employees.

You make a really good point. And to top it off, if the network PAYS, the network can call the shots on how the programme is portrayed. Too bad this comment is hidden from the top layer. People should read it and be aware of this 'reality'.

Thanks for the thought.

Heather
wordwan

April 17 2013 at 1:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
teriayers

I like this show and saw this episode. She tried to come off as tough but is really a softy at heart. She was great and will go far.

November 20 2012 at 11:25 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
BIG ITALIAN SAUSAGE

When do we get to see the Undercover Boss episode where the CEO fires all the gays and liberals?

November 20 2012 at 10:43 AM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to BIG ITALIAN SAUSAGE's comment
markbroome6

I think you are gay. Maybe you are just trying to hide it, but you are doing a bad job at it.

November 24 2012 at 12:14 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Ellen

BOGUS SHOW BOGUS PEOPLE.

November 20 2012 at 9:33 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

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