Undercover Boss: Type A Boss, Grade C Father


Over its relatively short run, CBS's Undercover Boss has quickly become a primer on management styles. Some bosses, like Churchill Downs' Bill Carstanjen, fall clearly in the Robert McNamara number-crunching category, unable to connect emotionally with their employees. Others, like White Castle board member Dave Rife, are more personally invested in their business and employees. This week's entry, Michael Rubin, clearly fits into the second group. The founder and CEO of GSI, an e-commerce company that runs online shopping sites for Zales, Hershey's, Sports Authority and dozens of other brick-and-mortar retailers, his emotional involvement in his company quickly emerges.

In many ways, Rubin is almost a caricature of the ambitious, driven, type-A boss. As he proudly details at the beginning of the episode, he has been working since he was 12. At 14, he opened his own brick-and-mortar business and by the time he hit 21, his business had over $100 million in revenue. He clearly takes a great deal of pride in GSI; his wife tartly claims that he regards the company as his baby. Early in the show, this emerges as a problem, as Rubin seems to be neglecting a real-life baby, his three-year-old daughter.

During his week on the other side of the desk, Rubin poses as "Gary," a temporary holiday season employee. For his first undercover assignment, he loads a truck, a job that he describes as "The most difficult work that I've had in my entire life," and which leaves him claiming "I'm exhausted. Every bone in my body hurts." In the process, Rubin manages to whack his coworker Rashelle in the face with a box and packs the truck so poorly that it needs to be reloaded. Evaluating his own performance, Rubin demonstrates the classic CEO/worker divide, admitting that he thought the work would be easy: "I thought when I signed up to do this that everyone was going to say 'Wow, Gary is so great at doing these jobs.' ... I was absolutely wrong."

The importance of family quickly emerges as a theme in the episode. At his second job, Rubin works with Adam, an even-tempered call center employee who handles "escalations," emotionally draining calls in which company representatives try to calm down angry customers. Adam gives Rubin a glimpse into his life: a year earlier, the cheery phone operator lost his daughter at birth, followed shortly by his job. As he shows Rubin, having a sense of priorities helps him maintain a relaxed attitude about his stressful work.

Rubin's next job is boxing orders. Unfortunately, he is unable to keep pace with the work and ends up being fired. Clearly shaken, he tells the camera "I've been fired for the first time in my entire career -- from my own company ... I was more nervous packing boxes than in my role as CEO of the company." But at his last job, assembling orders for shipping, he meets Cameron, whose competitiveness and love of the job quickly inspire Rubin. The CEO is also struck again by the importance of family. During his breaks, Cameron meets with his daughter in the company break room. Explaining his energy and drive to Rubin, he admits that he spent much of his teen years on the streets of Detroit; the product of an absentee father, he is determined to be an outstanding and responsible parent for his own child.

As with every other episode, this installment of Undercover Boss wraps up with a reveal, as Rubin rewards his good employees, punishes the bad ones and implements the lessons that he learned on the other side of the desk. Ultimately, a looming question remains unanswered: having seen the importance of family for his employees, will Rubin work to become a better father to his own child? Either way, it looks like he's going to be a better -- and more effective -- boss.