Paul Hargreaves: Undercover Boss
I was looking forward to watching the new series of Undercover Boss on ITV which has been re-named Undercover Big Boss – don’t be deceived, it is just the same as the previous series. As I say, I was hoping to enjoy the business programme as I have tired a little of Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice, which have both passed their best before date. However, it must be more than a decade since I last watched the programme and much has changed in both business and in me during that time. So, now I hated it!
It wasn’t the rather formulaic patterns I remember from last time; it was the fact that the very rich owner of the business was unaware of the inequality within his business and that he thought he could sort things out by throwing packages of money at problems, rather than going for systemic change.
The business in the first episode was a caravan park company owning 70+ sites across the country. One part featured the undercover boss working with a maintenance guy on one of the sites, a lovely salt of the earth person doing a wonderful job. He disclosed that he had had one pay rise in the last few years and that was 50p an hour. When it came to the big reveal in the owner’s house to be offered a £5,000 bonus for years of underpayment was, in my view, an insult, particularly as the maintenance man had just walked past a £1.4M Bugatti on the drive. Surely it might be better to have addressed the ridiculous imbalance in the business rather than a token bonus.
Contrast this with the CEO of Gravity Payments in the USA who took a pay cut of 90% to ensure all his people were able to be paid a minimum of $50,000 per annum. Since the change the company has tripled revenues, head count has grown 70%, customer base has doubled, and babies had by staff has grown 10 times. People have left the company half as often. Being generous as a boss isn’t just a better thing to do but it results in more successful businesses.