Wouldn't it be great to see big-shot CEOs get out of their corner offices and rub shoulders with the peons who work for them? Thanks to the magic of television's Undercover Boss, that's now possible.

Every week, the CBS (CBS) hit reality show features an out-of-touch CEO learning the error of his (or her) ways by traveling incognito among his subordinates. It's sort of like the The Prince and the Pauper, but with middle-aged guys in suits.

However, none of the CEOs on Undercover Boss are well-known, and the companies involved (1-800 Flowers, Hooters, Choice Hotels), tend to be small potatoes in terms of corporate size and power.

I think it's time for the show's producers to think big -- really big -- and try to land the crème de la crème of Corporate America for the Undercover Boss treatment. Wouldn't it be great to see Citigroup's CEO serve as a loan officer? Or BP's new chief work as a cashier in a gas station on the Gulf Coast? Below is a list of CEO suggestions, which I'm offering the show's producers. With names like these, Undercover Boss could really get corporate titans and mainstream Americans talking about the state of the real economy.

Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A)
Warren BuffettUndercover Assignment: Ice Cream Dispenser, Dairy Queen, Wildwood, N.J.
Reason: Buffett recently appeared in the latest Wall Street and has his own cartoon, so he might be up for going undercover. Dealing with people who are distraught and in need of cash may tax the patience of the normally affable billionaire. Wildwood is the real Jersey Shore (forget that stupid TV show) with scores of drunk, tanned and tattooed young people demanding their frozen treats on a given summer night.

Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple (AAPL)
Undercover Assignment: Genius Bar, Apple Retail Store, Pittsburgh, Pa./Wauwatosa, Wis.
Reason: It will take two locations for Jobs to get a true grasp of what it's like to work in one of his stores and deal with problems and complaints with Apple products all day. Pittsburgh is about as far from Silicon Valley as you can get. It's a shot-and-a-beer kind of a town filled with the sorts of blue collar folks who would laugh in Jobs's face if he explained that the iPhone 4's design flaws were the user's fault. Residents of Wauwatosa, a blue-collar town of about 49,000, would find such explanations amusing as well. It would probably be a good idea for Jobs to ditch his trademark black turtlenecks and try to fit in with the Wisconsin locals by studying up on the Green Bay Packers.

Vikram Pandit, CEO of Citigroup (C)
PanditUndercover Assignment: Home Lending Specialist/Loan Officer, Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Reason: Pandit is due a mammoth raise from the $1 salary he earned while the banking giant was swimming in a sea of red ink. Now is the time for Pandit to show what he's really worth. The job, at least according to the company's job description, seems to be an ideal fit: "
Consult with customers about their financial situation, financial and personal objectives and lending needs for the purpose of helping them achieve their home ownership goals." Many of their goals, no doubt, will be simply to find a way to stay in their house. Year-to-date, there have been more than 584,000 foreclosure filings in California, according to RealtyTrac.There are 2,766 trustee sales listed on the site in Ventura County, where Thousand Oaks is located.

Bob Dudley, CEO of BP (BP)
Undercover Assignment: Cashier, BP Station, Penasacola, Fla.
Reason: Can you think of a better opportunity for Dudley to get a close-up view of the damage done to the company's brand from this summer's disaster in the Gulf of Mexico? Pensacola's tourism industry suffered after tar balls washed up on its beaches. BP station owners, who are mostly independent, have seen their sales plunge, particularly on the Gulf Coast. It would be nice for Dudley to show he feels their pain.

Jim Skinner, CEO of McDonald's (MCD)
Undercover Assignment: Grill Cook, McDonald's Orlando, Fla./ San Antonio, Texas,
Reason: Any McDonald's near a tourist attraction such as Walt Disney World or the Alamo is bound to be insanely busy, particularly on the weekends. Skinner can get to know his cash-strapped customer base. Activists complain that most customers don't bother ordering healthy Happy Meal options. Maybe Skinner, whose company saw strong same-store sales in July, can push some fruit slices and salads.

Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric (GE)
ImmeltUndercover Assignment: Customer Service representative, GE Appliances, Louisville, Ken.
Reason: The world's largest conglomerate announced in 2008 that it would exit the 101-year-old appliance business. That plan fell apart because of the Great Recession. Some consumers think GE appliances are terrible. Perhaps Immelt ought to see for himself if these rumors or true before he tries unloading the division again. This uncertainty probably does little to help morale.

Michael Duke, CEO of Wal-Mart Stores (WMT)
Undercover Assignment: Cashier, Walmart Barboursville, W.Va./Lumberton, N.J.
Reason: Barboursville's Walmart reopened Sept. 1 after being closed for three months for a redesign the company says offers "a glimpse of the company's next generation of store design and customer experience." Duke should be on hand to see how customers like the new format. Lumberton, near Philadelphia, has a diverse clientele ranging from middle-class families to working class "pineys," residents of the nearby Pine Barrens. There, Duke could speak firsthand with a wide array of Walmart shoppers.

While it's unlikely any of these CEOs will take time out of their busy schedules to appear on a TV show -- indeed, shareholders and other executives would likely consider it beneath them. But even if unlikely, it's fun to imagine how these corporate titans would fare actually serving first-hand the Americans that generate so much of their sales.

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135 Comments

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Tom

I would like to see Ivan Seidenburg of Verizon try this. I can't see it happening though. He does't have a clue what the rank and file do in their daily jobs, and I don't think he gives a ring or tip if he does, as long as he makes his tens of millions off thier blood, sweat and tears. A retired union member

October 11 2010 at 12:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Barb and Dani

I think suggesting that the big company CEO's go undercover and then posting their pictures is not the smartest move. Most people would know Warren Buffet anyway.

October 05 2010 at 12:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Shirley

I would like to see Charlie Ergan, Dish Network co-founder, work as a technical support representative for about a month, and see how he deals with the customers. Does he follow the rules and guidlines that he and the others have implemented, or does he change them to fit his purposes, as the company does often.

October 04 2010 at 11:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dalejrno3

How about having the CEO of GOODYEAR on the show. He proably would just decline though!

October 04 2010 at 9:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
wonderwhy6169

did not see the ceo of ups...

October 04 2010 at 8:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
sfcat

I like your choices, though I'm not so sure the Jobs one would make a difference. Their customer and employee contentment levels are higher than many.

October 04 2010 at 8:14 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
scrooboo

Mike Duke is an egotistical, overbearing and abusive monster. Walmart's philosophy of disposable employees has to end. He is pushing to drive tenured employees away so that he can hire cheaper and younger workers. He wears his nickname "Iron Mike" as a badge of honor. Walmart did itsself no favor by hiring Edwardo Castro Wright, but Mike Duke is even worse. The end of walmart is near, and I cannot wait to see it

October 04 2010 at 7:55 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
rsgustin71

Interesting that this person doesn't seem to know the correct state abbreviations.

October 04 2010 at 7:48 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Nancy

You've picked the wrong Walmart..send him to Schererville, IN at the crossroadas of US 30 & US 41. It is absolutely filthy-always. Their excuse is they make more money than the other Walmarts. Also, some one needs to ask him about the GAG orders they force outgoing mgmt to sign...you know the one where they cannot tell anyone every bad thing you ever heard about Walmart is TRUE AND EVERY THING is even WORSE. (I have never worked for Walmart in case you are wondering)

October 04 2010 at 7:45 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
sgard206

Add the CEO of Wells Fargo to deal with loan restructuring.

October 04 2010 at 7:41 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply