'Undercover Boss' Gives DirecTV CEO a Job Orientation

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On Sunday, Oct. 10, DirecTV (DTV) CEO Mike White will become the latest corporate executive to don a scruffy beard and a baseball cap in order to appear on CBS' (CBS) Undercover Boss. Posing as an entry-level employee at the company, he will go on service calls, work in one of the company's call centers, and spend some time in its warehouse.

This week's episode should offer an interesting take on a recurring theme of Undercover Boss: the embarrassing disconnect between the average worker and the head office. Week after week, CEOs and presidents strip off their ties and suits, grow odd-looking facial hair, and head off to work on the front lines of their companies.

During their brief sojourn on the other side of the big desk, they inevitably are shocked by the fact that their workers have problems and personalities, concerns and issues of their own. Sometimes the bosses cry and sometimes they rage, but mostly they seem to be surprised and blindsided, like an extremely well-paid deer caught in a pair of headlights.

If the bosses seem baffled, the workers don't seem much more perceptive. Week after week, credibility is strained as the executives' flimsy disguises seem to hold up under scrutiny. The undercover boss inevitably goes to work, seemingly disappearing into the identity of "Randy" or "Todd," a late-forties, down-on-his-luck drifter from another town who happens to be applying for an entry-level job with a camera crew in tow.

More than anything, the show demonstrates the painful lack of internal communication at most of these companies. For the folks in the boardroom, the register jockies and mop pushers seem to be beneath interest; for the front-line workers, the bosses are like Olympian gods: capricious, often incompetent, and completely divorced from their realm of existence. Neither side comes out well: The execs are shamefully unconcerned about their workers, and the workers are surprisingly ignorant of their employers.

CEO Sees Undercover Role as "Great Education"


In that regard, Mike White should provide a welcome change of pace. The CEO probably went into his undercover experience with no more understanding of the rank and file than Churchill Downs' Bill Carstanjen (still the show's gold standard for executive incompetence and condescension). However, unlike the hapless and horrendous Carstanjen, White has a great excuse for his ignorance: He's only been at DirecTV for ten months.

Before January, White was a Pepsi (PEP) man. Hired in 1990 as Vice President of Planning at Frito Lay, he spent the next twenty years working through the ranks, ultimately becoming CEO of Pepsico International in 2003 and Vice-Chairman of Pepsico in 2006. He has also worked for Avon cosmetics and sits on the board of directors at Whirlpool (WHR).

To put it mildly, the shift from packaged foods to entertainment services is a major one, but it has been a profitable ten months for DirecTV. Under White's direction, the company launched three 3-D channels, expanded its popular "NFL Sunday Ticket" option onto an online site, and increased the number of subscribers. So far, his moves have worked out nicely: The stock recently hit its highest price ever.

For that matter, White seems to have used his Undercover Boss experience to great effect. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, he noted that the two weeks he spent working on the show were "a great education in the nitty gritty" of DirecTV's business. With what appears to be a solid feeling for the company and a newly minted familiarity with its ground-level workers, White seems well prepared to lead DirecTV.

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16 Comments

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linda

I go with comcast have never had a problem, but I know some of you can't get comcast

October 11 2010 at 5:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
batzendbelfry

That was the phoniest one yet! Some others were good, but by now, how can't any employee smell this one out? Whens the last time in your job was a newbie followed by multiple cameras!!!! Jeez!!

October 11 2010 at 12:18 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
medjas

My suggestion to Mike White would be to pose as a customer to get a feel of the REAL Directv. I was a DISH network customer for over 10 years with no problems and received one of those "too good to be true" offers from Directv. Well, it was too good to be true! After I received my first invoice, 4/09, I became embroiled in a lengthy billing dispute with Directv, and I, too, could never speak with and individual who could actually correct the problem. I was directed to send my request via mail to Dispute Resolution in Greenwood Co. who eventually contacted me, but could not correct the issue either. The problem still remains today. Throughout the course of my numerous self-initiated contacts with Directv, I have been met with many helpless, incompetent, rude, or in one case threatening employees. If it were not for the fact that shortly after the inception of my service I have had several serious health and family issues to deal with, I would be pursuing resolution more vigorously. CRIMINAL is definitely a correctly descriptive term to describe Directv's business practices.

October 10 2010 at 9:41 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
dreamrsmom

I am currently in a dispute with DirecTV, in Las Vegas. I have filed a claim with the Better Business Bureau. The dispute continues. They mislead me, they said I had 24 hours to cancel, but they weren't even installed in 24 hours. I was told I had 30 days to cancel and when I did, they charged me the early termination fee. I am disputing all charges. The sales rep hand delivered a check to me for the full amount of the early termination fee. The check was cut by the group that represents DirecTV in Las Vegas. They are a rip off. You can't talk directly to anyone in dispute resolution, you have to write to an unknow address. There is no one that will talk to you on the phone. In my opinion, DirecTV is a scam and should be avoided. Keep your cable company.

October 10 2010 at 9:24 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
jacknab97

Maybe Mike White will refund me the money stole from my bank account as they continued to withdraw funds for service that had been disconnected. despite repeated attempts to get my money back they stone wall through a series of front companies so that you cannot actually talk to anyone directly employeed by the company. Fas as I am concerned DirectTV is a criminal organization.

October 10 2010 at 9:17 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
rlbrooks726

I have a suggestion for Direct TV that would greatly increase the number of subscribers. LOWER YOUR FREAKIN' PRICES!!!! WHAT YOU ARE CHARGING TO BE ABLE TO WATCH TV IS CRAZY!!!! This goes for all of the satellite companies and also cable. Don't you people know we are in a recession with record high unemployment? How are people supposed to afford what you charge? Maybe if you had a few less chiefs, the payroll would drop and you wouldn't have to charge such high prices. WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE!!!!

October 10 2010 at 9:04 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rlbrooks726's comment
jennifer

unemployed people should not be watching TV.

October 10 2010 at 11:54 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
jschnit100

I personally respect all CEO's and their responsibilities. Based upon experience, I believe before becoming a CEO, these individuals would learn a great deal about the organization if they at least spent six (6) months with hands on training within many departments; marketing-accounting-customer service, etc.

October 10 2010 at 8:48 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
nsarmento

I'd love for the CEO of Charter Communications to see first hand the kind of crap his employees do too. I can't imagine anything WORSE than Charter's service and pricing. But I AM thankful that all CEO's are NOT the same...my husband works for a company whose owner/CEO could go out and do any job in the company...GREAT guy who truly understands the people who work for him. When times got tough, he and the executives were the first ones to take paycuts. I admire and respect this man so much, and I am so glad my husband works for him!

October 10 2010 at 8:08 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
dddance2tonight

About three years ago, I left my ho-hum cable provider for Direct TV. I knew I was in for difficult times when within one hour, the tv installer in his enthusiasm to place direct tv on the front burner, CUT my telephone wire at the house; he was aiming for (and actually did win)complete dominance on the "pole" in my front yard. Upon being presented with the evidence of his less than professional installation, the installer and his immediate supervisor continued to berate me, the customer, about cable service versus direct tv. Two days after installation, my system went down - I called direct tv only to discover that they were tied up and it would take two weeks for a repairman to show up. Direct tv was "insulted" that I would not wait two weeks...they made it extremely difficult to get my old system back on tract and I still feel even to this day that they just don't get it.

October 10 2010 at 6:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bill griffis

all bosses should be requier to work with the employees in the trenches to see what it like. i did work for a company that the GM put the front office on notice it things get rough out in the warehouse they and him have of go out and give a hand, but corporate put a stop on it made a bad impression to the stock holders. the employees gain more respect for the bosses especially the one's that loaded the trucks by hand

October 10 2010 at 6:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply