Should more CEOs get their hands dirty at the coal face?

August 13, 2010

A Channel 4 show has brought office-bound executives into close contact with the people doing the heavy lifting to demonstrate the effect the decisions they take at the top have on their employees.

The series, Undercover Boss, moved into the realms of publicly-listed companies last night with an episode involving Colin Drummond, CEO of recycling and waste management firm Viridor, part of FTSE 250 water group Pennon.
Stripped of his suit and with a beard, Drummond masqueraded as unemployed John Roy, seeking a job in the waste sector and was put to work at household recycling sites and on waste picking lines at Viridor’s sites across the country.BRITAIN-BIOGAS/

In one scene, Drummond was shown flustering when welcoming cars and directing drivers as to where their different rubbish should be placed at Viridor’s Arkwright Street site, prompting an employee to comment, “Obviously he’s a little bit slow.”
In another he was visibily shocked at the working and breaktime conditions at an older site in Bristol. ” This is a tough old job,” Drummond was shown as saying.

At the end, Drummond reported his findings to the board and, as CEO, asked those employees who had impressed him to share their good ideas with other sites and investigate new technology that could make their jobs easier.
Drummond said afterwards the experience had been a real eye-opener. “It’s exposed me to some of the things that we do really well, things we need to work on, and given me a full, rounded view of how the company works on a day to day basis.”

So, should all top executives ensure they have this sort of work experience on their CVs? Would it help them do their jobs better? After all, Tesco’s current boss Terry Leahy started on the shop floor, while the supermarket’s  CEO-designate Philip Clarke stacked shelves in the store run by his father.

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