DirecTV's Michael White: The Best 'Undercover Boss' Yet

Michael White, CEO of DirecTVDirecTv (DTV) Chief Executive Michael White may have been the best Undercover Boss yet, although by the standards of the hit CBS (CBS) reality show, that may not be saying much.

The latest episode had all the hallmarks of the series -- a clueless boss who learns that life outside the corner office is hard and meets plucky yet determined employees who triumph over adversity -- that viewers have come to expect. In previous episodes, the drama always seemed staged and the rewards given to the hard-working employees who meet the boss almost fairy-tale-like in their generosity. This time, it was more believable because White was by far the most likable of any previous boss.

The 58-year-old CEO came across to viewers as a regular guy who also happens to be really rich. In fact, the employment agreement he signed with the El Segundo, Calif.-based company when he took the CEO job in January calls for him to receive a base salary of $15 million, according to DirecTV 's latest proxy. He also got a stock grant valued at $25 million over a three-year period. In 2008, White's compensation from his previous employer, PepsiCo (PEP), topped $10 million.

Investors seem to like him as well. Shares of DirecTV are up more than 25% this year, while shares of rival Comcast (CMCSA) only rose 6.52%.

A More Genuine Kind of Guy


What separated White from the other Undercover Bosses was his attitude. Maybe because he is fairly new to DirecTV and has no background in the satellite-TV business, White seemed to realize that he has much to learn. He also came across as being fairly humble. The show points out that he wasn't born to high station and that he's had his share of difficulties, including his son's battled with substance abuse. Though other CEOs from humble origins have appeared, when White made statements such as that he was excited to go undercover so he could see what makes his employees tick, he seemed genuine. His alias was Tom Peters, presumably an homage to the best-selling management guru.

As with other Undercover Boss episodes, this CEO was surprised to learn things that should not be surprises. At a service call in Alabama, White was stunned to learn that his supervisor for the day, Phil, had purchased his own GPS for his truck. Phil also was forced to spend 15 minutes on his cell phone in front of a customer to find an surprisingly hard-to-get HD receiver.

On a later mission, White meets Ryan at DirecTV's warehouse and soon discovers that the relationship between the warehouse and the technicians needs to be straightened out. One employee named Tequila worried White when she climbed on a roof in the rain. She, too, is forced to wait an eternity with customer service to get the customer's TV service activated. That's another problem that should have been brought to White's attention. White did the best at working with Chloe at the DirecTV call center though he got flustered when he accidentally called a woman "sir."

Low-Key Denouement


One of the things that drives me crazy about the show are the back stories of the employees, which though real often come across as contrived. The human drama was dialed down a notch in this episode. Phil was an ex-crack addict who runs a youth ministry. Ryan is a divorced dad with twin boys battling a degenerative back disease. The drama around Tequila centered on her being a woman in a job dominated by men. She missed her family reunion because White slowed her down. Chloe was a former foster child who's now working her way through college.

The denouement also was low-key, a welcome change from recent episodes where the now-revealed boss made ridiculous gifts such as flying lessons or offers to send an employee's child to medical school, which seemed to be planned for the cameras.

Still, White did manage to brighten the employees' days. He gave Phil -- not surprisingly -- a GPS, along with a $5,000 donation for Phil's ministry. Ryan got a less physically demanding job and a birthday-party spectacular for his boys courtesy of the CEO. Tequila was named to DirecTV's Women's Leadership Exchange. White felt guilty because she missed her family reunion and paid for another one. Chloe got a $10,000 scholarship and a promise from White to be her mentor.

Though this episode was an improvement, the premise remains as realistic as a fairy tale, albeit one with middle-aged men (except for last week's boss) instead of magical fairies.

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sylvia.alarcon

Mr. Mike White,
I had taped and was watching Undercover Boss, a program I truly enjoy, when I saw that it was about DirectTV I was especially interested for I am a customer. Thirty one minutes in to the program I get this message "We are experiencing temporary difficulties please stand by. We apologize for the inconvenience." I never got to see the second half. This has happened before, I thought that it was ironic that it happened when it was about service for DirectTV customers.
Sylvia Alarcon
I would appreciate a reply. svalarcon@hotmail.com

July 31 2012 at 12:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
sylvia.alarcon

Mr. Mike White,
I had taped and was watching Undercover Boss, a program I truly enjoy, when I saw that it was about DirectTV I was especially interested for I am a customer. Thirty one minutes in to the program I get this message "We are experiencing temporary difficulties please stand by. We apologize for the inconvenience." I never got to see the second half. This has happened before, I thought that it was ironic that it happened when it was about service for DirectTV customers.
Sylvia Alarcon
I would appreciate a reply. svalarcon@hotmail.com

July 31 2012 at 12:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dennisp2011

What was strange was the dangerous practice of jumping on the cardboard waste to compact it. They make corrigated box compactors for that purpose.....spend a little and save some employee from going to the hospital.

June 24 2012 at 4:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
klementina8

Dear Mike White,my name is Klementina Keegan costumers of DTV for more than10years.I has been over charge,from DTv and theat with colection agency from your reprezentatives.he AMEX pay my bill ,DTV charge me a late fee. Please take care of this problem or I will take a ligal action. My Acc10267545.
Klementina Keegan

June 24 2011 at 7:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
airchink

directv is not a good company to work for they dont care about their employees i got involved in car accident and they let me go right away no second chance what kind of company is that not very loyal too their employees.

October 15 2010 at 1:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cyrosie

To me the best was Waste Management CEO, perhaps because it was the first one. The worst was the CEO from Hooters, I would have fired his A... for not firing that manager. The show is so limp, predictable, no one really has to guess what's going to happen.

October 11 2010 at 2:18 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cyrosie's comment
steven's the bom

I agree; the Waste Mgmt. episode was the best. I don't watch every episode of Undercover Boss, but it really is better than most reality trash on TV.

October 11 2010 at 4:27 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply