'Undercover Boss' Features First Female CEO

Kimberly Schaefer CEO Great Wolf Resorts Undercover Boss
Kimberly Schaefer CEO Great Wolf Resorts Undercover Boss

On Sunday, Oct. 3, CBS's Undercover Boss will break new ground: for the first time, the program will feature a female boss. Kimberly Schaefer, president and CEO of Great Wolf Resorts (WOLF) will explore the other end of the corporate ladder, posing as a waitress, pool attendant and line cook, among other jobs.

North America's largest chain of indoor water parks, Great Wolf operates 12 resorts in the U.S. and Canada. For Schaefer, who lives in Wisconsin, this should translate into a fair bit of travel and a wide range of experiences as she works at parks around the country.

CEO of Great Wolf since January 2009, Schaefer has been with the company since 1997, when she was hired as a senior vice president for operations at the Great Lakes companies, a predecessor to Great Wolf. In 2004, she was promoted to chief brand officer and, in 2005, became chief operating officer.

As a female CEO, Schaefer presents a fresh logistical challenge for Undercover Boss. For the most part, the show's featured executives have been fairly easy to disguise: If the CEO has a beard or mustache, he shaves it off. Or, if he's clean-shaven, he grows a scraggly-looking beard that makes him look a bit disreputable. Sometimes, the CEO changes eyewear or combs his hair differently, but the show's efforts at camouflage are reminiscent of old Superman comics, in which the removal of a pair of glasses somehow transforms Clark Kent into a superhero no one recognizes as Clark Kent.

All in all, the effectiveness of the disguises on Undercover Boss demonstrate little more than the big gap between bosses and rank-and-file workers. Generally speaking, executives don't understand their workers, and workers don't know who their CEOs are.

Schaefer's makeover seems less extensive than the average change. A contact lens wearer, she'll be substituting a pair of plastic-framed glasses. As for the rest, she'll sport a new haircut, with lighter-colored highlights, bangs, and a slight trim.

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Beyond the new costuming challenges, the show seems to be treading familiar ground. Discussing her experiences on CNN Money, Schaefer uttered the now-familiar sentiment -- "before going undercover, I felt that I knew the jobs and would be really good at doing them" -- followed by the inevitable finish: "They were a lot harder than I thought."

To her credit, though, Schaefer seems to have learned more than most undercover bosses. Highlighting the hard work of some of her employees, Schaeffer delineated her plans to "engage our line employees in committees to improve the way we provide personalized service. Management needs to get workers more involved in what we're trying to do because the employees are the ones who know how to do it."

Guilt Over the Impact on Kids

Overall, Undercover Boss still seems to be relying on many of the standard tropes of last season. Just like many earlier CEOs, Schaefer discovers that her employees have personal lives and challenges that she can relate to. In this case, the drama directly relates to children: Schaefer suffers some guilt about the impact that her executive lifestyle has on her kids, while some of her employees have childcare issues of their own.

One of the key conceits of Undercover Boss is that the bosses and their employees live in the same world, and that their problems are comparable. But although Schaefer's $1.7 million compensation package puts her on the lower end of the CEO pay scale, she still makes more than 120 times the minimum wage, raising the question of just how close boss and worker really can be.

Also See:Seven Bosses We'd Like to See Go Undercover