Roto-Rooter Exec Fumbles His Way Through Latest Undercover Boss


On the latest episode of CBS's (CBS) hit reality show Undercover Boss, Roto-Rooter President and Chief Operating Officer Rick Arquilla seems to have no idea that his company is involved in a yucky business.

Even though Arquilla has been with the Cincinnati-based unit of Chemed Corp. (CHE) since 1989, he has zero experience snaking a drain or doing any of the down-and-dirty tasks that his employees do on a daily basis. During the show, we see Arquilla walking through raw sewage and pulling hair out of clogged bath tubs. Oddly enough, he seems shocked that such tasks would be so unpleasant. The color blind executive is also stunned to learn that his color-based dispatch system is complicated to follow.

One of the show's biggest highlights, however, occurs when Arquilla somehow manages to burn a hole in a metal Roto-Rooter machine that he was supposed to be welding. He gives up on welding soon thereafter. (I'm not so sure that most companies would let someone with no experience handle a welding torch on an expensive piece of equipment.) The show was a surprise hit for CBS, which announced that last Sunday's episode was watched by the most viewers in key demographic categories.

In the show, Arquilla plays "Hank," a rookie Roto-Rooter employee who camera crews just happened to be following around as part of a video celebrating the company's 75th anniversary. With each new job, Hank's colleagues improbably decide to spill their guts to him -- even though he may just be the most incompetent trainee in the company's history.

The first employee Arquilla meets is Darrell, an affable man with heart problems whose disability claim was denied by the company. Then, he works with Candace, a dispatcher who reveals she is a single mom of an autistic son and is behind on her mortgage. She is the one who tries to show "Hank" the color-coded dispatch system and how to work the phones but ends up throwing her hands up in frustration. Chris is next and is even harder on Arquilla. Nevertheless, Chris, who is a recovering alocholic, strikes a chord with Arquilla whose own father waged an unsuccessful battle against the disease. This is just the beginning. Arquilla meets a few more employees along the way.

Once viewers' heartstrings are sufficiently pulled, Arquilla brings the unsuspecting workers to headquarters and reveals himself. One by one, he tries to help each employees that he met. It turns out Darrell had filled out the disability paperwork "improperly" and is actually entitled to benefits. Arquilla also secures a supply of health food for Darrell and sets up a gym in his house. Arquilla asks Chris to share the story of his battle with addiction with his colleagues around the country. He gets therapy for Candace's son and gives her $5,000 to get her mortgage out of default.

While this fairy tale appears to have a happy ending. Roto-Rooter's outlook is far from rosy. The plumbing and drain cleaning business generated sales of $85.7 million for the fourth quarter of 2009, a decline of 0.8%. Job count in the fourth quarter of 2009 declined 6.3% when compared to the prior-year period.

Shares of Chemed, though, have rebounded 15% this year along with the rest of the market. The way Sunday's show played out, one has to wonder if there was an Undercover Boss premium built into the shares.