On Undercover Boss, Roto Rooter COO Rick Arquilla Goes Down the Drain

On Sunday's Undercover Boss, the show is going down the drain...literally. Featuring Rick Arquilla, the president and COO of Roto Rooter, the episode will take its business executive-as-normal-worker theme a step further with the untrained Arquilla trying his hand at drain snaking, faucet removal, and other grim plumbing tasks.

Arquilla's training is in sales. After his 1975 graduation from Ohio State University, he worked as a salesman with several Ohio companies before going to work with the the Cincinnati-based Roto Rooter. In 1989, the company hired him to be president of its central region; within ten years, he had worked his way up to become president and COO of the company.

However, as he recently noted in an episode of Blog Talk Radio, "I have never done the work."

And the work is fairly intense. Roto Rooter is best known for its signature product, a supercharged plumber's snake that Des Moines inventor Samuel Blanc created in 1935. Equipped with sharp blades that it uses to cut through serious clogs, the original Roto Rooter was popular with Depression-era entrepreneurs who were looking for a profitable business that carried a low entry fee. Soon, the company moved from manufacturing and selling the machines to operating franchises. In 1980, the Blancs sold out to Chemed (CHE), which expanded Roto Rooter's offerings, transforming the company into a full-spectrum plumbing company. Today, Roto Rooter operates throughout North America and has franchises in Japan, Philippines, Australia, United Kingdom, Indonesia and Singapore. It also still manufactures the Roto Rooter machine.

During his time in the trenches, Arquilla explored the wide range of Roto Rooter's services, visiting four cities and trying his hand at the full range of Roto Rooter jobs, including drain clearing, manufacturing, customer service, and dispatching. Speaking about the experience on Blog Talk Radio, he admitted that, "There are certain jobs that no one in the right mind would hire me to do at Roto Rooter. I failed on numerous occasions."

Arquilla was particularly struck by the fact that Roto Rooter employees must perform for an audience: "It's hard work and there's nowhere to hide if you're having a bad day... because you're doing this work in front of customers." This was particularly hard for him because, in his words "I was incompetent on so many levels."

One of the lingering problems of Undercover Boss is its formulaic structure: while Arquilla claimed that the participants' level of personal involvement could mitigate the trend, he noted that the show could certainly become "Just too plain vanilla: nice boss meets nice front-line people, does nice things, they sing Kumbaya, show's over." Faced with that unappealing option, he admitted "I don't think I'd watch that."

Sounds like he saw the Churchill Downs episode.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

How to Buy a Car

How to get the best deal and buy a car with confidence.

View Course »

How much house can I afford

Home buying 101, evaluating one of your most important financial decisions.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:
Kace Johnson

It would be fun to go on the show undercover boss. If I were a business owner, I'd want to know what my employees say about me. Going undercover would be the best way to find out.


April 23 2014 at 4:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
George Puzo

I think that would be so cool to do Rob. I would love to be an undercover boss, I could just think of all the stuff I could learn. I wonder what it would be like to be an undercover boss for a gossip magazine. That would be fun.

George Puzo | http://www.plumbingcontractorsbrooklynnyc.com/Plumbing-Services.html

April 16 2014 at 10:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Elisa Jed

They are definitely known for their supercharged plumber's snake. I am surprised he doesn't even know the basics of how to use it. This "boss under cover" will be an interesting one.

Elisa Jed | http://majordrainomaha.com/plumbing/

April 07 2014 at 9:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Charlie McPoyle

It is good for once to have the COO to get their hands dirty. A lot is lost in translation from the workers on the bottom to the high paying executives. I am glad he went through with it and it shows his character. http://edrikeplumbing.com/drain-cleaning/

April 02 2014 at 8:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It was probable really hard to see how things were going and to keep who he was a secret. I know that if I was in his shoes, I would not hesitate to reveal myself and just take charge and show them who I am and let them know what is going on is wrong. I do not think that I would be able to do that myself and it would just be too much for me to handle hiding who I was from everyone when I see that my company is failing.
Jak Manson | http://www.lewisplumbingsantabarbara.com/santa-barbara-sewer-and-drain-service/

February 07 2014 at 11:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Laurey Williams

It would be interesting to see how the bosses of commercial plumbing would react in undercover boss. Are you familiar with this company: www.myanytime.com. I wonder if their boss would be willing to go on the show...

January 30 2014 at 6:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rico Rodriguez

Great episode! It's good to see a CEO doing some of the work his/her employees are doing. Especially with something like plumbing, it's probably easy for them to forget about their employees.

Rico | http://www.Plumbinghamptonroads.com

January 22 2014 at 4:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Plumbers work really hard everyday and make peoples days easier. Know what exactly you need to look for and who can and will help you out.
Jak Manson | http://www.armstrongservicesinc.com/Plumbing/

January 10 2014 at 4:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bill Stewart

Plumbing can be hard work, and every job does require training, like the training of an Atlanta plumbing company. (http://www.atlantawaterlines.com/atlanta_plumbing_company.html) Otherwise I think most of us would fail at a lot of things.

March 04 2013 at 7:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Great work. I've been searching all the plumbers around trying to get work done in my house. I found these guys i was referred to http://www.waltsplumbing.com and they did such a great job.

June 28 2012 at 1:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply