Ever wished your boss's boss's boss would spend a day in your shoes? OK, probably not. But it's fun to watch presidents, CEOs and other bigwigs performing tasks like making pizza, hauling junk and sweeping up garbage on "Undercover Boss."
The show that has sent bosses schlepping around in the UK and the US has now arrived in Canada, disguising honchos from companies like Pizza Pizza, FedEx Canada, Molson Coors and Cineplex. One surprisingly moving episode follows Karen Stintz, the city councillor who oversees the beleaguered Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) as she connects with various TTC workers on an emotional level. (Random aside: Stintz looks so good in her disguise, we think she should consider going brunette permanently! We know getting a nose ring is probably a long shot.)
In another episode of "Undercover Boss Canada," Cineplex CEO Ellis Jacob finds out what it's like to serve popcorn, take tickets and oversee children's birthday parties. We caught up with him to find out if anyone was rude to him while he was incognito, and what it was like shaving his iconic mustache.
Why did you decide to go undercover?
When you're sitting in the head office and you've got 10,000 employees out there, you just don't know what happens day-to-day. My focus has always been on service consistency, so it gave me the ability to go to five different theatres and see how things work, which was very interesting. It's a great experience, but it's a heck of a lot of work!
What can viewers expect to see you doing? I heard you were taking tickets and serving popcorn!
Yeah, I did a lot of the different jobs in the theatre. I screwed a few of them up [Laughs], but it was all a part of the experience. One of the things I did get out of it was the amount of responsibility we give our young employees, which is just incredible. They've got to make a lot of decisions on the fly. They did an incredible job and they didn't know who the heck I was.
What kinds of decisions?
Well, when I was working in the projection booth, the power failed in the whole theatre and we had to evacuate everybody! I was dying to get myself in the middle of it, but since I was a trainee I had to hold back and see how the employees performed. That was also another great experience, seeing how they dealt with the guests and made sure that everybody exited safely. Those are nice things you don't see on a day-to-day basis sitting in head office.
What was the hardest thing for you?
Staying undercover! [Laughs] It was tough. A lot of people know who I am, but we managed to get through.
Did anyone recognize you at any point?
There was one general manager who recognized me, but I think the camera crews just kind of put him by the side and told him, and he stayed away. He recognized me by my voice and my walk, not by how I looked! Overall I would highly recommend the experience, but it is a major time commitment. For a one-hour show, I probably spent 70 hours of time between the makeup and the motel room and the theatres themselves, and you're still working your day job in between trying to do all of that in the evening!
Oh wow, you were still doing your day job?
Yeah, I was working out of my home and making sure my assistant gave me everything I needed. The theatres don't really start operating until later in the evening, so it gave me the whole morning to do all of my stuff and then go to the theatres at 2:00 p.m. or 3:00 p.m. and then stay until 1 a.m. or however long I needed to.
Was it difficult for you to avoid checking your BlackBerry while you were undercover?
Yes, it was a little bit difficult! But whenever we took camera breaks I managed to sneak a look at it! [Laughs] I tried to avoid it as much as possible.
Did the production team come up with your disguise?
Yeah, they wanted me to shave my moustache, which I haven't done in over 35 years! That was a little tricky. Then the hairdo and the glasses, they made it pretty good!
Was anybody rude to you while you were undercover?
No, but one employee told me I was too slow and that she wouldn't recommend me for a job, which was kind of funny. [Laughs] She had me cleaning the party room and I wasn't going fast enough for her.
How did she react when she found out who you were?
She was very shocked, but excited about the whole thing.
Have you grown your mustache back?
Oh yeah. I started growing it back right away. I was getting all of these looks with my hair and my moustache, some people thought I was going through a midlife crisis. It feels better now that I can tell people, because for a little while we were sworn to secrecy!
Why do you think viewers like to watch bosses go undercover?
I think they want to see what people at the higher levels do from the perspective of being involved with the staff. We're all human, so they want to get some humour out of that.
"Undercover Boss Canada" premieres on W Network on Thursday, February 2 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.