In the premiere episode of Undercover Boss, Larry O'Donnell, the boss of America's largest trash company, Waste Management, goes undercover. Larry assumes a new identity and poses as a new recruit. By working on the front lines he finds out what's really going inside his company-he finds the good, the bad, and discovers the unsung heroes that make his company run.
Who's the Boss? Waste Management is the largest trash and recycling company in North America. At the helm of the 13 Billion dollar business is one man, Larry O'Donnell, President and Chief Operating Officer. A lot of responsibility comes with his job, but Larry's number one priority is his family; his wife, Dare, his son Larry Jr, and his daughter Linley. Larry doesn't take any of the time with his family for granted, because his time with his daughter, Linley, was almost cut short. When Linley was a baby, she suffered brain damage during a routine test. It was the result of a doctor not following proper procedure. Now, in her mid-twenties, Linley is a medical miracle because they didn't think she would live past a year. Because of this, Larry swore to never work for, or run a company that didn't take safety seriously.
Beyond safety, Larry wants to go undercover to see if the targets and goals that he sets at corporate headquarters are realistic in the field. As a result, he may be able to revolutionize the way Waste Management does business, making them more efficient, and even saving jobs, which is a concern in the current economic climate. While undercover Larry O'Donnell will transform into Randy Lawrence, an out of work construction worker trying out entry level jobs at Waste Management. He will be staying at local motels and recording his thoughts and feelings at the end of the day on a video diary camera.
For his first day on the job, Larry is working the frontlines at a recycling facility in Syracuse, NY. He wants to visit this facility to make sure that efficiency is at its peak, so that Waste Management can keep recycling as a viable and profitable business. Today Larry will be manning a station on a conveyor belt where recyclables speed past him all day. His job is to pick out all the pieces of litter that aren't recyclables. One slip up and the belt could clog up shutting down the line for hours. Larry is nervous about being recognized undercover and has his work cut out for him working this entry-level job. Larry's new boss, Sandy gives him his uniform for the day, including special sleeves that will protect him from sharp object, such as needles, on the lines where he'll be working. With the conveyor belt whizzing by, Larry is coached by Sandy who yells out the pieces he should be picking up, and the ones he is missing. Larry complains, "This is going so fast", to which Sandy laughs, "this isn't fast, this is the slowest line we have in here!" The speed of the belt, combined with the pressure of knowing how expensive the equipment is, causes Larry to slip up, missing a big piece of litter. The whole line goes to lunch while the belt is down.
While at lunch, Larry confesses that he hopes he wasn't the one that clogged the line. Mid-sentence, Sandy suddenly pops up, runs over to her time card, and clocks back in from lunch with a sigh of relief that she made it in time. Puzzled, Larry inquires about why she is so nervous. Sandy lets him know that for every minute you are late, the company docks two minutes from your paycheck. "That's the way Kevin does it," Sandy explains about her manager, Kevin. Larry can't believe that he is the president of the company and didn't know about this practice, and admits, "This is precisely why I wanted to go undercover." After an exhausting day on his feet, Larry returns home sore and ready to hit the sack, unsure if he can even make it to work the next day.
Larry's second job is at the Central Landfill in Pompano Beach, Florida, and it seems like a straightforward task. He has to pick up the litter, which blows off of the landfill during windy days, and put it in trash bags. Walter, his boss for the day, suits him up and gives him his mission of filling one trash bag every ten minutes. Despite Larry's many questions about what technique is best, Walter insists he should just get going and says, "What kind of technique do you want? You're just picking up paper." And with that, Larry is chasing litter up and down a steep hill on a very windy day. With very little success, after a few hours of trying to fill bags, Larry and Walter go to lunch. Larry soon finds out that Walter has little patience for people who are perfectly healthy and can't complete this job, because Walter is able to do it, even with having been on dialysis for over 20 years. Illuminating his true survivor attitude, Walter says, "I let my spirit tell my body what's going to happen, what I'm going to do and not going to do, because if I let the body tell me what I'm going to do, I'm not going to do very much." Completely blown away by Walter's spirit, Larry pleads for another chance to prove himself on the windy hill. Walter gives Larry one more chance, saying, "This is the most important ten minutes of your life." Not for lack of trying, Larry falls short of his goal, and Walter tells Larry that he isn't cut out for this job, firing Larry for the first time in his entire life.
At his third job, Larry finds himself working at High Acres Landfill in Fairport, NY. He is interested in seeing if his cost cutting measures have taken affect at this location, which he knows runs with a very small staff. The manager on site, Jeff, knows Larry so Larry tells him that he is going undercover for the day, and asks him to keep Larry's secret safe. Jeff agrees and tells Larry that he will be working with the "glue" of the facility, Jaclyn. Jaclyn is the hub of the wheel that runs the landfill. Upon meeting Larry, Jaclyn is disappointed and says, "You wore boots buddy?" because she knows that they will be running around all day, and his feet are going to ache in boots. Jaclyn's official title is administrative assistant, but Larry soon finds out that she has many jobs including: office manager; administrative assistant; scale operator; scale supervisor; accounts payable; and payroll, among others. The first part of the day, Larry furiously tries to keep up with Jaclyn as he chases her around the facility. Jaclyn teaches Larry how to operate the scales that weigh the trucks coming into the landfill. He struggles with having so many balls up in the air, and is amazed by Jaclyn's organization, hard work, and her bright smile despite the mania. Larry comments on how impressive she is, and Jaclyn shares that while she is doing the jobs of three or four people, she is getting paid for only one. Despite that, she revels in the challenge, and enjoys learning new skills. She describes herself as a born survivor, having overcome 5 forms of cancer. Jaclyn also lets Larry know what her ambitions are as she remarks, "someday I'm going to run this place." Jaclyn invites Larry over for dinner that night, since he is new in town, and he very happily accepts. Upon arriving at Jaclyn's house, Larry meets not only her husband, and her daughter, but also her sister, her brother-in-law and her father, whom ALL live in her house. Larry is extremely impressed to see that Jaclyn provides for the whole family. He then discovers that Jaclyn is in danger of losing their dream home. Larry leaves feeling very sad for Jaclyn and can't get her off his mind.
Larry can't sleep because he is upset about Jaclyn losing her house, and being stretched to do various jobs at the landfill. In the morning, he calls Jaclyn's boss, Jeff, and asks him to meet up to discuss these issues immediately. Larry asks Jeff what is going on with Jaclyn, and Jeff admits that they are short staffed. They both agree to think about how they can make her situation better.
Battlefield of Poop
Larry's journey continues at the carnival in Houston, TX where he meets Fred, a 10-year veteran of cleaning portable toilets. Larry will be sucking out the contents of the portable toilets and making sure that they are clean and smelling fresh for the patrons of the carnival. While this seems like a very dirty job, Fred immediately makes Larry feel comfortable, and has fun by cracking jokes. They arrive at their first toilet and Fred remarks, "You never know what you might see, we don't know what's in here, we know it's trouble," as he swings the door open and laughs. They start sucking the contents out, and while most people wouldn't be able stand this job, Larry finds himself laughing and having fun with Fred's amazing attitude. The day flies by with Fred as Larry's potty mentor, and Larry leaves the job smiling and in awe of Fred's commitment, positive attitude and spirit. Fred believes in Larry too, and evaluates him saying, "I would like to work with him some more because I definitely see the potential in him."
Keep on Truckin'
On Larry's last day undercover, he is in Syracuse, NY as a helper on a trash collection route, which is the public face of the company. He wants to see if the communication line between the frontline employees and their managers is clear. Larry meets Janice, his driver for the day, and is off and running to collect garbage at over 300 houses. Off to a slow start due to Larry's inexperience, Janice tells Larry that she has very strict productivity targets. She feels that her hands are tied because, as she says, "that's the way corporate wants it." It's not just upper management that is making Janice feel undermined; it's also her direct supervisors. She explains to Larry at their next stop that the supervisors follow them on their routes, and spy on them. She points out a white pick up truck parked down the road that could be a supervisor. The route continues with Janice giving Larry yet another tip: carry a can. Larry is shocked when he learns that since Janice can't break off of the route to go to the bathroom, she is forced to pee in a can. Larry reflects, "I was just struck. How do our female drivers deal with being out of the road when nature calls? I feel like a male chauvinist. I've never thought about it." Despite any set backs in her job, Janice is a positive person, and introduces Larry to her favorite customers who have gifts, and letters for her. Larry is especially touched by one customer, who has written Janice a poem, because she reminds him of his daughter. Surprising himself he says, "I didn't think I'd be having these kind of emotional issues here riding on the back of a garbage truck."
Back to Business
Larry's journey has finally come to a close and he is eager to share what he found with his senior leadership team, saying, "I have got to change the way I go about my job." Larry starts by telling them, "I think the things I've learned could change the way we do business forever." He describes his disappointment with the policy he uncovered at Sandy's recycling plant where employees are docked in pay two minutes for every one minute that they're late. Larry goes on to talk about the effects of the productivity targets that the team has put into action, and admits that he was the one that was pushing it the most. Larry agrees that productivity is important, but that they need to work on a way to hit targets, while making things better for the drivers. With that, the team adjourns.
Next, Larry plans to reveal his true identity to the employees he has been working with all week. The employees don't know why they have been summoned to the Waste Management headquarters in Florida. One-by-one Larry walks in to meet the employees and receives mixed reactions. Some realize right away that something is awry; others just think that they are seeing their co-worker, "Randy", in a suit. Larry introduces himself as Larry O'Donnell, the President of Waste Management, and lets them know that he has gone undercover all week in order to see what challenges his employees face, and to discover how he can be a better manager.
Larry showers Fred with compliments about his positive attitude and amazing spirit. Fred is touched to hear the president of the company saying this to him. Larry tells Fred he wants to tap into his excitement and invites him to come and speak to the senior leadership team. Fred is honored and overwhelmed. Then, Larry tells Janice that he was really affected when she was talking about "corporate" the way that she did. He empathized with the frustrating impact that his decisions have on employees out in the field. He promises Janice that he is going to consult with her to make things better for the front line. Next, Larry tells Walter how impressed he is with his personal story of being on dialysis for so many years and maintaining such a positive attitude about his job. He promises Walter some paid time off in order help other people going through the same treatments. Larry meets with Sandy next and explains that the docking policy at her plant is not what Waste Management wants for its employees. He assures her that he is going to talk to her manager Kevin and get the policy lifted. Larry then meets with Kevin and explains that the reason he went undercover was to find policies that are frustrating to the front line employees, like the docking policy. Kevin assures Larry that he can take care of getting rid of that policy. Finally, Larry meets with Jaclyn and tells her how impressed he is that she is doing multiple people's jobs. He tells Jaclyn that he is putting her on a salary, and making her bonus eligible, which will result in a large pay increase for her. He then tells her that she is being made a supervisor, and that she needs to hire her replacement. Jaclyn is moved to tears and is thrilled that all of her hard work has been noticed.
Now that Larry has revealed his true identity, he is ready to share his undercover experience with the whole company. With a parking lot fun of hard hat wearing workers surrounded by garbage trucks, and a landfill in the background, Larry introduces himself to his employees, and tells them that he has been undercover all week at Waste Management. He shares clips from his week undercover with the crowd, who all laugh and cheer on their co-workers. Larry goes on to explain how his journey has changed him forever, and promises, "I feel more of a connection with the folks that do the really hard jobs in this company. I'm going to be a better manager because now I have a whole new appreciation of the impact that some of my decisions can have on you folks." Larry ends his experience by saying, "This is an experience that is really going to change my life."