This Undercover Boss Learns the Art of Sandwich-Making, the Hard Way

Subway sandwich shopDon Fertman wins the award for being the Undercover Boss with the most colorful background of any Undercover Boss, hands-down.

The one-time rock-n-roll musician hooked up with Subway nearly 30 years ago, when the sandwich chain needed some help writing a jingle. Moving from the craziness of the music business to the routine of corporate life proved to be a challenge. Fertman wound up in drug and alcohol rehabilitation, which thankfully worked. Luckily for him, Subway stood by him, and Fertman, now Subway's chief development officer, has repaid the company's loyalty in kind.

To disguise himself in order to get a closer look at Subway's on-the-ground operations, Fertman transformed into a down-on-his-luck drug and alcohol counselor named John Wilson, who was supposedly trying out for a job with several Subway workers. John, whose dyed beard made him resemble James Lipton of Inside the Actor's Studio, underscored the show's central theme that not knowing the basics of your business is no barrier to a career in management. Somehow, Fertman escaped ever having to learn how to make a Subway sandwich despite working for the chain for nearly three decades. That was too good of a factoid for producers to ignore.

A "Chatty Cathy"

Jessi, a "sandwich artist" in Orlando, Fla., barked orders at Fertman like a Marine Drill Sergeant. The Subway exec is painfully slow and seems unable to memorize the ingredients of various menu items under the pressure of a lunchtime rush. Of course, that would have been difficult for almost anyone to do.

In a moment of staged hilarity, Fertman locks himself in a walk-in cooler, much to the annoyance of his manager Efrain, who oversees a separate location in Orlando. Fertman also proves inept at multitasking and almost burns the bread and cookies he's making.

Sherry, a manager at a Subway in Auburn, Ala., complains that Fertman is being too much of a "chatty Cathy" and not concentrating enough on getting customers their food quickly. And Fertman's nerves were frayed by having to take down delivery orders for Duane, who runs a location in a Buffalo, N.Y., church.

Happy Endings


These workers all had back stories that helped further along the plot. Jessi was a struggling college student whose mother wasn't in the picture. Efrain, 20, wants to help foster children like himself. Sherry was so gung-ho for the company that her children also worked there. Duane is a minister with four adopted children. In the end, there was a happy ending for every one.

Fertman agreed to pay for the rest of Jessi's college education and to pay for a trip for her and her dad. Subway will donate $5,000 to the foster children's organization of Efrain's choosing and award him $1,000 to spend as he chooses. Sherry will be paid $5,000 to appear in a customer service video and will be flown with a guest to the Subway annual convention in California. In addition, she received a spa day and a shopping trip. The company will wave the $15,000 franchise fee for Duane to set up a program to teach job skills along with a $20,000 education fund for his children.

Subway co-founder Fred DeLuca would have been a better choice than Fertman, who nevertheless did a pretty good job. DeLuca, who is a billionaire, co-founded the chain in 1965 when he was 17 years old. He has weathered up and down economies to build a business of 32,000 locations in 90 countries.

I bet he'd have some interesting things to say about what makes a business great. DeLuca, though, didn't want to do the show because he was seen as the "face" of the company who often schmoozes with franchisees and customers. Of course, I thought the face of the company was Jared because he's featured in so many of its commercials.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Advice for Recent College Grads

Prepare yourself for the "real world".

View Course »

Introduction to Retirement Funds

Target date funds help you maintain a long term portfolio.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

1 Comment

Filter by:
Ehsaanullah Zahid

It's ironic how much money is spent annually by subway on advertising and this recent effort by don Fertman to promote Subways image. I say ironic because here in Pakistan, we are being served everything from Caterpillars, Flies to Cockroaches in our Subs. The outlets have pathetic hygiene conditions with servers picking their nose in front of customers, clipping their nails on counters and cockroaches coming out of their kitchens if it wasnt enough to make you throw up in your mouth already.

There are no checks and balances because the Development Agents are the very people who own majority of the franchises. Convenient, because you cant get your complaint heard or an impartial resolution.

Customers come down with food borne illnesses such as food poisoning, hepatitis, typhoid. I loved Subway, I still do. But I'm a little repulsed now. I had been eating for 3 months straight at Subway store id 39526. There were flies and the insect killers didnt work. I politely filled out a suggestion card and also asked the server to tell the owner to do something about the insect killer.

Next visit, nothing had happened. So I decided to take snaps of the dead and alive flies on the premises and email them to him. As I did so, a server on the counter started clipping his nails since there were no customers to serve at the time. A few days earlier, a server had picked his nose oblivious to on looking customers. I reprimanded him, he apologized and I let it slide thinking it was a one off incident. Keep in mind, we are brain washed by the clever advertising into thinking regardless of geographical location. Subway would maintain its standards of hygiene at least. Not so.

As I was done finishing the email, a large cockroach came out of the kitchen making me want to throw up. I stopped going to Subway after that but it was already too late. I came down with Hepatitis A and was in the hospital for 2 weeks of what seemed like a near death experience.

2 months passed and the owner still didnt reply. I called Subway HQ and threatened a lawsuit. I was given nothing but lip service by their attorney "We will look into this but can't promise you a time frame for a resolution as we have never dealt with such a situation before'. Add insult to injury why dont you? The owner emailed me saying the workforce was to blame, and took no responsibility for the incident.

These are the kind of people you want representing Subway Don Fertman? The kind that play with peoples lives and safety? Why? Because its good for profits and business? Have you any idea how many customers you lose when this happens? I'm looking at a relapse of the Hepatitis A and Subway International wants to drags its feet because business is good in this part of the world, even if it kills a few people.

June 09 2014 at 2:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply