What United Van Lines CEO Carried Away from 'Undercover Boss'

Rich McClure CBS Undercover bossThe nation got to see Richard McClure, president of UniGroup and CEO of United Van Lines, go undercover on CBS. DailyFinance went on-the-record with him now that he has had time to reflect on his national TV experience. What did this initially reluctant Undercover Boss get out of the whole thing? You may be surprised by his inspiring takeaways.

McClure spoke on that subject Tuesday at an event organized in part by Workforce Ministries. The audience chuckled at his self-deprecating opening and description of the premise of the hit reality show: "The philosophy is to show a boss who clearly can't do the front-line job." On that, by his own admission (and there are clips to prove it), he delivered. A devout Christian, he went on to explain the four things he took away from the experience.

1. You Really Have to Invest in Being Authentic

McClure cautioned that, in the workforce and in life, we are often temped to "fake it." Heck, there's even the saying "fake it 'til you make it." And there's nothing like a camera or six in your face to ramp up that instinct. It can be a useful survival instinct -- up to a point. The issue McClure points out is, you'll start to buy into it and may even begin to define yourself by it.

"When I became CEO, all of the sudden, my jokes got funnier and my ideas got better," admitted McClure. He challenges himself to keep it real and drove the point him with a memorable vision: "Some day at your wake, someone will come up to your son or daughter and say, 'I worked with your mom or dad.'" He didn't have to say another word. Bottom line: What they say after that is up to you. Powerful stuff. Note to self: Bring your whole self to work and make sure it's the good version.

2. Let the Real Stars Shine

Moving is a really personal experience. UniGroup processes a stunning 80,000 customer surveys a year to get a better handle on the client experience. It's almost universally driven by the person on the front lines. In the case of United Van Lines or Mayflower, it could be the driver, the packer or the move coordinator. McClure says when someone tells him they've had a good moving experience with his company, there is always a second sentence. "There is always a person. Names that go with that experience."

3. Things are Not Always as They Seem

McClure doesn't generally opt to be the company's front-man -- he's not in its ads -- and was initially reluctant to do the show. Then, he thought it might be a chance to share his faith along the lines of fellow Christian CEOs Bryan Bedford of Frontier Airlines (RJET) and David Kim of Baja Fresh. He was wrong: Most of the references related to religion ended up on the cutting room floor, much to his initial disappointment.

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Instead, the show producers gravitated to footage of him talking about his marriage of 33 years and -- in an Undercover Boss first -- his wife, Sharon, also appeared on the program. They explored the challenges and opportunity costs of demanding jobs. Some moving truck drivers spend 200 days a year on the road. On some level, McClure says he could relate. "I didn't get to teach my son to play catch," he said. "I missed key times in my daughter's life." A lot of air-time ended up being devoted to this unexpected, but extremely relevant angle.

4. Focus on the Smallest Things for the Largest Impact

Like many of us, McClure's life is filled with what may seem like disparate personal and professional parts. Sometimes it can start to feel like you're just going through the motions. You'll miss stuff. On the flip side, if you're really in tune to the small things and have a "True North," your instincts and actions will be sharp. And, this too, you can't fake. In fact, McClure says his longtime assistant once called him on it, stopping him in his tracks with the assessment, "You know, when you ask people about their life or family and you don't really care, it shows." That's going through the motions.

He illustrated the difference by highlighting the story of Valerie, a moving coordinator, who got the sense by phone that a woman she was working with was unusually burdened by the moving experience. When presented with options, she'd become immediately overwhelmed and say, "I don't know." Valerie had a keen sense this woman was in crisis-mode. She alerted the driver to be "extra sensitive." She didn't know what was up, just that something was up. Sometimes that's enough.

Weeks later the woman wrote Valerie a letter explaining she had been sexually assaulted and robbed just prior to accepting a promotion and company transfer (hence the move). She thanked Valerie for making her feel taken care of, specifically referencing the fact that Valerie was quick to say what just might be the two most powerful words in customer service -- "no problem." The next line amplifies the significance, "I wondered if you meant it and you did."

Louis J. Giuliano, retired chairman, president and CEO of ITT (
ITT), graciously closed the presentation and gave a nod to McClure's leadership by example. "It's so much easier for the stars to shine when the opportunity is given to them," said Giuliano. Quite the boss.

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