Few people are as well-equipped to embrace that philosophy as Lorne Abony, the CEO of Mood Media Corporation of Ontario, Canada, a global company that provides in-store services for retail businesses, including the Muzak that plays in the background of your gym, restaurant or mall. (The U.S. headquarters is in Charlotte, N.C.) It's one of those companies "you've invariably experienced without knowing that you've experienced us," Abony said while introducing himself during the "Undercover Boss" episode that aired on Friday.
The importance of that which goes on in the background is also a dynamic that resonates for Abony on a personal level. Growing up with "very very little money" and a father who was AWOL through most of his youth, this "Undercover Boss" nonetheless rose to gain two law degrees, as well as an MBA from Columbia University. And he now leads a global company with $500 million a year in revenue and is a highly ranked amateur tennis player on a doubles tennis team that's ranked second in the over-40-year-old division of the United States Tennis Association.
But his issue with his father moved from Abony's background to center stage as the CEO was forced to confront childhood demons -- and ultimately make peace in a dramatic encounter on the recent episode of "Undercover Boss." This time it was as much about a new beginning for the boss as it was about his employees.
On a site visit to a Mood Music site in Atlanta, Abony worked alongside Devin, who assembles the company's equipment from scratch. Abony was posing as "Beau," a failed nightclub owner appearing on a "second chances" reality show.
Devin spent time with "Beau," telling him about his family life. Though like Abony, he didn't go into every gory detail for the camera, Devin did reveal to "Beau" that he'd left home at 17 amid a series of problems that included his parents' divorce and one very messy night. So, Devin said, he decided years ago to cut his ties to his father. But the deaths of his uncle and grandmother in the same year led him to change his mind. "I learned to let my pride go," he told "Beau."
And that he did. During the show's reveal, he sat down with his father (as shown in the video above), and told him, "I only have one dad and i want to be part of your life," though he added, "We won't solve everything today." Sitting across from his son during a reunion in New York City, his father showed that he was on the same page. "I love you unconditionally.... It would be nice to know that we can have some kind of relationship," he said, while tearing up. "Something that keeps us together."
A humbled CEO is a common theme on the "Undercover Boss" series, now into its fourth season. One of the dramatic moments from the third season was when Philly Pretzel CEO Dan Dizio was forced to admit that he hadn't remembered meeting and making promises to some of his franchise owners.
And for Abony, his talk with Devin was just one of several humbling moments during his "Undercover Boss" appearance. While visiting Leila, a dispatcher based out of Austin, Texas, Abony was able to check on the results of a buyout of a rival company, DMX. Leila showed a voluble charm in working with the company's technicians, greeting one on the phone by shrieking his name. But then she told Abony that many of DMX's longtime workers feared losing their jobs as a result of duplication in the aftermath of the buyout. Abony was taken back, and later said that it was a very different experience to "look into [the] eyes" of his workers as compared to studying spreadsheets.
It was one of those CEO moments that can't help but make you wonder if such detachment is required to attain corporate power. (AOL Jobs recently reported on a study of the rate of psychopathy among CEOs that put it at four times that of the general population.) How could it not have occurred to Abony before that there were human consequences to harsh cost-cutting measures?
Abony also was humbled while doing a site job with John on Long Island, N.Y. Abony (as "Beau") was rated as a "little slow" by the amiable John, in cutting wooden boards to be used for equipment. And so John shared that he thought "Beau" would probably be better off in the manager's chair.
Abony's fear of heights was exposed during his visit to a Planet Fitness in Atlanta. He was visibly uncomfortable in climbing a ladder while installing a closed-circuit security system; he said that he thought it was wobbly, and then asked to come down. Eileen, his trainee, said that she "never saw anyone react like that." Abony, for his part, was more at ease with his foibles as an on-the-ground worker, and conceded that he's "absolutely terrible" at these jobs.
Abony's earnestness in helping his workers was demonstrated during the show's reveal. He announced that Eileen's partner won't have to worry any more about her benefits, and that effective immediately, Mood Media would pick up the costs for same-sex partners, even though it would cost the company $200,000 a year.
And he told Leila that he was making a $5,000 donation in her name to an animal cruelty charity, out of respect of her love for her four dogs. He also told her that she'd be the recipient of $15,000 toward her education as a veterinarian. To John,` he offered $40,000 to use as he wishes, but certainly some of the money was intended for his daughter's honeymoon, which Abony knew he was saving for.
To Devin, who inspired Abony to reach out to his father, he gave $30,000.
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