On 'Undercover Boss', Bowling Exec Tries to Avoid the Gutter

Undercover Boss CEO Steven Foster on Undercover BossOn Sunday, Lucky Strike Lanes CEO Steven Foster will get a chance to show America how he rolls. The latest guest on CBS' (CBS) hit show Undercover Boss, Foster will take a close look at the bottom rung of the corporate ladder as he tries his hand at the day-to-day tasks of running of the bowling alley chain that he created.

While this week's show follows Undercover Boss's well-worn trope of a thinly disguised executive fumbling his way through various manual labor positions, Foster seems to offer a more sympathetic version of the guy from the boardroom. Thus far, many of the show's guests have tended to be condescending, self-important, and barely conceal their disdain for the proletarians with whom the reality-show premise obligates them to interact.

A common critique of Undercover Boss is that it's essentially an extended infomercial for the companies it features. While that's probably how the show is pitched to the participants, it often has exactly the opposite effect. Watching disinterested executives expressing ignorance about the day-to-day running of their companies isn't a confidence-builder. As for investors, seeing how far out-of-touch many of these titans of industry are begs the question of what, exactly, is going on in the corporate suite.

It seems like Foster may be one of the show's rare exceptions. A resident of Burbank, Calif., and a graduate of Boston University Law School, he has learned some hard lessons about the importance of direct involvement with the operation of his companies. His first venture, Jillian's, was a chain of pool parlors/bowling alleys that he started in 1988 and named for his wife. In 2004, a few years after he left the top post of the company, and just one year after he left its board, Jillian's filed for bankruptcy. "At Jillian's ... I delegated to the president," he said at the time. "Now I am the president [of Lucky Strike], and I'm directly involved in execution."

'I Want to Be Dressed in the Mr. Pin Costume All the Time'

Lucky Strike, which opened its first location in 2003, currently has 20 locations in the U.S. and Canada. For his work on the show, Foster visited a few of the bowling alleys, trying his hand as a bartender, waiter, control room worker and machine technician. In one memorable scene, he dons a giant bowling pin costume and tries to convince people to come into the alley. Enthusiastically hugging partygoers and playing with kids, he draws the admiration of his "boss," who tells viewers "A lot of people have a hard time letting go and being free, but 'Aaron' really got into it." Foster echoed the sentiment "I'm feeling really spectacular. I want to be dressed in the Mr. Pin costume all the time. Maybe I need to wear it once a week for therapy."

Contrasted with previous execs on the show, Foster's joy at participating in the ground-level work of his company really stands out. Speaking about the experience, he stated that "This has been a moving and meaningful experience for me to see the heart and soul of Lucky Strike in our employees." Noting the effect of his bottom-up view, he continued, "I have learned a lot about our operation and am excited to make changes that will strengthen our brand."

If Foster's previous post-bankruptcy education is any indication, he may have the rare ability to turn spilled drinks and gutter balls into a valuable lesson for his company.

Foster's episode of Undercover Boss will air at 9 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14 on CBS.

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I was most impressed with the compassion that emanated from Mr. Foster. It was truly moving to me to see him display his emotions. I lost my father at a young age and I found myself crying through most of the show when Mr. Foster talked about losing both his parents. I only wish the CEO's of all companies could be like Steven Foster. Sir, you really really are a wonderful human being and I wish you much continued success.

November 15 2010 at 6:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Genrals do not win wars by themselves. They provide the opportunities. However, it is the resulting pride and sacrifice at the front lines that ultimately brings home the bacon for everyone.

November 15 2010 at 6:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It was a wonderful show . made me cry i live in shreveport la my sister in pickerington ohio. i colled to tell her it was on afer the show was over colled her back we both was crying. we had wonderful parent,s thank,s

November 14 2010 at 10:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

undercover boss is a piece of crap if i see one more jackass cry on that show i think ill shoot myself you get rid of good shows and keep this crap you should take this survivor and amazing race and sink them in the gulf maybe they will soak up the oil

November 14 2010 at 10:01 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

I must be watching a different version or maybe I'm just in a different world. The episodes I've seen often make the CEO look like a phony because he is TOO caring. Are we watching the same show?

November 14 2010 at 8:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My ball has my name in gold.

November 14 2010 at 7:32 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to gbelter777's comment

Was that painful?

November 14 2010 at 7:37 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

lmao 911!

November 14 2010 at 8:08 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to nusstoo's comment

Made me laugh well too. Thanks.

October 04 2011 at 8:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

These people that are on these programs must really be broke they cant even watch tv ..............Now you know at least one of the people in the trailer park has a tv with rabit ears on it and to think that out of nowhere here come a person working a entry level job has cameras and microphone booms and lighting and think "HEY THIS IS ON THE LEVEL" either that or "THIS GUYS KIND-A-COOL its silly

November 14 2010 at 6:49 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Bruce Watson's write up on this weeks episode of Undercover Boss clearly demonstrates one of the most significant problems in our world today. The Press. Mr. Watson was not discussing Undercover Boss, he was discussing his agenda. Said agenda being to work toward everyone thinking and believeing the way he does. To say that all previous episodes were filled with thinly veiled undercover boss' who were condescending, self important and could barely conceal their disdain for the proletarians with whom the show demands he/she interact with, tells me Mr. Watson either watches the show with great predisposition, or, does not watch the show at all. Every episode I have watched has been filled with delighted "proletarians" impressed greatly that the "man" would take time to get to know and understand them and both their personal and professional needs. Get over yourself Bruce.

November 14 2010 at 6:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As I read more and more of these "comments," I am more and more convinced there is a tremendous gap between offering a genuine critique or criticism and the apparent need to viciously attack and/or whine. I think that more than a few of the "commmenters" here (and elsewhere) need more than anything else is some good, basic mental health therapy to deal with their own deeply ingrained anger. These comment columns provide a "venom vent" like nothing ever before possible, thanks to the Internet. But, honestly, it is wearing me out, and I am just "tuning out" as I numb myself to the incessant verbal assault. On another topic, my "pet peeve," is the incredibly poor command of our basic English language spelling and grammar skills so evident in these columns. Did anyone ever go to school and actually learn anything? And as for the actual topic of the column, "Undercover Boss," if it so painfully disturbing to watch for the folks who hate the bosses, why waste the time to watch?

November 14 2010 at 4:13 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Hey Deano, what's a tas break?

November 14 2010 at 3:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply