On Sunday, Undercover Boss starts its second season with a glimpse under the sheets at Choice Hotels (CHH), one of the largest hospitality conglomerates in the world. Featuring president and CEO Stephen P. Joyce (pictured), the episode will show the tougher side of the hotel business, as Joyce scrubs a pool, makes beds and straightens up a few of the company's estimated 490,000 rooms.
Last season, Undercover Bosswas the most popular new series on TV, with an average 17.7 million viewers per week. Yet for all its success, the show quickly fell into a rut, as many of its episodes featured the same set pieces: at some point in the show, the CEO would cry as he learned about the personal problems of some of his workers. Later, after revealing himself to the hard-luck employee, the CEO would -- like a gray-suited fairy godmother -- fix all the worker's problems and offer him or her an amazing opportunity to move ahead in the organization.
This episode could be a little different. Unlike many hotel chains -- and most of the companies that are featured on Undercover Boss -- Choice doesn't actually own the hotels in its chains. As a franchising company, it works with hotel owners and collects royalty fees for the use of its names, but the corporation doesn't have direct control over its 6,000 hotels in 35 countries. In other words, when Joyce finds out that some of his workers are suffering from crushing personal problems or trying to deal with unreasonable supervisors, his hands may well be tied.
Bad Timing, Quick Turnaround
Joyce has spent his entire career in the hospitality business: He went to work in Marriott's internal auditing department shortly after graduating from the University of Virginia. Over the next 25 years, he progressed through the Marriott ranks, ultimately rising to become one of the company's executive vice presidents and the point man for its growing franchise program. In May 2008, he jumped ship to become president and chief operating officer at Choice Hotels. A month after coming to the company, he was named CEO.
In some ways, Joyce couldn't have been hired at a worse time. A month after he started at Choice, the company's stock dropped by 35%, as sales tanked in the hospitality industry. Over the last two years, however, Choice's fortunes have improved. Today, the company's stock is close to its prerecession numbers. According to the company website, this rally is Joyce's doing, as the Choice rewards program lured cash-strapped vacationers into the company's hotels.
Regardless of whether or not Joyce is responsible for Choice's improvements, he has certainly been well compensated for his work. While his $3.5 million pay package is modest by Wall Street standards, it's stunning compared to average salaries at his company. It'll be interesting to see Joyce take orders from a hotel general manager who makes just over 1% of the CEO's annual paycheck, much less a front-desk attendant who makes $8.35 per hour, which works out to 0.4% of the undercover CEO's take-home pay.
Undercover Boss will air on Sunday night at 10 PM, Eastern time.