Undercover Boss is a great show for illustrating core management concepts. A season five episode features the CEO of the Larry H. Miller Company, owner of the Utah Jazz along with eighty other concerns. This episode features issues related to occupational health and safety, customer service and marketing. In the episode about Modell’s Sporting Goods, a family-owned business that has been around since 1889, issues related to logistics, wages, and social justice come to the fore. In the first season episode featuring the CEO and president of 7-11, issues related to management and corporate structure, customer service, and quality assurance are brought to light. These three episodes can all be used to better understand textbook concepts, from the particular skills managers need to succeed to ethics and social responsibility. Of these three episodes, the most engaging was the one about Modell’s because of the way the owner came to realize his wage structure was unfair. This related to concepts in the textbook about organizational learning, corporate ethics, and responsibility. The episode that was least interesting was the one about the Utah Jazz, because the primary focus was on how to improve the brand rather than focusing on management issues.

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In the Utah Jazz episode, the most interesting part was when the CEO joins the dunk team. The dunk team basically does performance art as a form of cheerleading, to engage the fans. Greg Miller, CEO, was wearing a prosthetic beer belly that prevented him from being as good as his colleagues. This was entertaining, even if it did not actually demonstrate core management concepts. However, the episode did address the following three management concepts. First, it addressed the essential skills and competencies of a manager that can be highly demanding and diverse. For example, Miller had to learn about the variety of ways to garner support for the team by bringing fans back and keeping them interested in the game even during losses. Second, it revealed the variety of technical, human, and conceptual skills the manager needs, especially during the segment related to the concession stand. Interacting with customers and with colleagues requires deft communications skills. Finally, this episode highlights contingency theory and quality management, to ensure that processes such as laying down the floor are improved for the future. As CEO, I would have reacted exactly the same way that Miller did with regards to improving the safety and logistics of laying down the floor, but championing the importance of fan activities like mascots and competitions.

In the 7-11 episode, CEO Joe DePinto wants to learn the “secret” of why one store sells a lot more coffee than other stores. He hypothesizes that it is the quality of the coffee itself, but it is actually the quality of customer service embodied by Dolores, who has been working there for almost 20 years. Dolores is on kidney dialysis and needs a donor desperately. This does not stop her from enjoying her job, working extremely hard, and hugging the customers she knows by name. Her engagement with the company made a huge difference, and informs methods of attracting good personnel. The episode also brings up an important issue discussed in section 1.3 of the text, related to globalization and job migration changing the nature of the labor market. In this episode, a Pakistani employee had been working the night shift for four years specifically so that he could go to school in the day. He told the CEO that the job was “dead end,” and felt that management did not provide the means by which associates could “grow” with the company. This episode therefore also addressed in the section on behavioral management as well as organizational structure. The segment about the donuts also highlighted issues related to quality management. As CEO, I would have reacted the same way that DePinto did, in that I would have been keen to change the ways associates view their role in the organization.

The episode that made the biggest on me personally was the Modell’s one. I appreciated Modell’s “no nonsense” approach to leadership. He had run his company on a tight budget, and had been cutting corners for years. That meant cutting employee wages. Before he went undercover, he never saw what did to his employees. He then meets several employees who struggle to keep food on the table, and one who has been living in a homeless shelter for two years, with her children. Another worked two jobs. Modell broke down crying when he learned this because of his commitment to corporate social responsibility and ethics, as discussed in chapter three. It is possible for companies to shift their wage structure to empower employees, without taking a dip in profits. It of budgets, and commitment to on empirical evidence. As the text points out, empiricism is increasingly important to managers who need to work with numbers. Modell’s tight operation rests on this empirical approach, but also a humanistic one. More than any other episode, Modell shows that managers can be positive role models, and they can also change. This episode also addresses important issues related to logistics and planning, one of the four functions of management as addressed in Chapter 5. The segment about inventory control in the Connecticut store showcases the controls process, described in Chapter 6. As CEO, I am not sure I would have been as generous to have given Angel $250,000. This huge demonstration of kindness shows that many leaders are driven by a sense of purpose and genuine ethical values, rather than paying lip service to a code of ethics.


Schermerhorn, J.R. (2012). Exploring Management. 3rd edition.

Undercover Boss Utah Jazz:

Undercover Boss Modell’s:

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