Executives get down and dirty in "Undercover Boss"

Wed Feb 3, 2010 3:29pm EST
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By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) - Larry O'Donnell may be president of a Fortune 200 company. But the Waste Management chief operating officer got fired on his first day in a humble job picking up trash when working for his own organization.

A rare television series set in the real-life workplace, "Undercover Boss" hits U.S. airwaves this Sunday, February 7, putting executives to work in everyday jobs in an era when many companies are cutting budgets and employees are working harder for the same pay, or less.

"Anybody who has had a boss, or who has worked in a company, will understand this show," said executive producer Stephen Lambert. "And for the person in charge, to be able to see what their employees are really doing seemed like an exciting idea."

The first show in the CBS documentary-reality series features O'Donnell and Waste Management Inc, the leading provider of garbage collection and recycling services in North America with some 45,000 employees.

Future episodes will show senior executives of restaurant chain Hooters, convenience chain 7-Eleven, Inc, family-owned hamburger chain White Castle and horse-race track company Churchill Downs Inc removing their pin-striped suits and getting down and dirty, anonymously, with their own workers.

For O'Donnell, that meant a week of long, unsocial hours cleaning filthy portable toilets, riding a residential garbage truck and joining a fast-moving sorting line in a Waste Management recycling facility.

Among his more eye-opening moments was garbage truck driver Janice, who has to urinate in a bottle on her rounds because she has no time or place for a proper bathroom break.

"Actually getting out there and doing the job as a first time employee, I have a whole new appreciation of what they do each day," said O'Donnell, who adopted a beard and eyeglasses disguise to work alongside a handful of his workers.   Continued...