‘Undercover Boss’ a life-changing experience for GSI Commerce CEO Michael Rubin

GSI Commerce CEO Michael Rubin shares with SNEWS insights he gained about his company while appearing on the new hit TV series “Undercover Boss.”
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CBS has a big hit with “Undercover Boss,” its new TV series that follows company CEOs as they disguise themselves as regular Joes (and Janes) and go undercover to work a variety of jobs in the corporation. The show (Sundays, 9 p.m., ET) ranks No. 5 in the TV rankings, right up there with “American Idol” and “Dancing With the Stars.”

The March 21, 2010, episode featured Michael Rubin, the founder and CEO of GSI Commerce (www.gsicommerce.com), an e-commerce company that handles order fulfillment, customer service and marketing for major U.S. sports companies, including Timberland, Dick’s Sporting Goods, adidas and Eastern Mountain Sports.

During his stint undercover during the holiday season (pictured - right), Rubin had a humbling experience, fumbling his way through the pick-and-pack process, struggling with a tape gun as he rushed to fill boxes with product, and sweating his way through the exhausting job of loading shipping trucks. He even had to bite his tongue while working alongside a rude customer-service person. But along the way, he gained great insight into the real concerns of his employees, and discovered elements of his operation that can be improved.

SNEWS® caught up with Rubin following the airing of the show, and asked him to share a few thoughts about the experience and how it affected his leadership and decisions afterward:

SNEWS: What sparked you to take up the challenge and risk of participating in “Undercover Boss”?

Michael Rubin:
I founded the company and know our business inside and out. As we've grown larger, I have missed the opportunity to be close to the daily activities that are at the center of what we do and the things that enable us to deliver value to our clients. This was the perfect opportunity for me to connect with the thousands of associates that make our company successful -- especially during our busiest online shopping season.

SNEWS: After going undercover, what was the most significant thing you thought you needed to change in the company?

MR:
It was interesting from start to finish. I really liked connecting with employees on a one-to-one level as a colleague and not as the CEO. I met some incredible employees who have faced some difficult challenges in their life but come to work every day with an extremely positive attitude. I want to find ways to promote more people from within our organization.

SNEWS: One of the changes you made was implementing the "A Day in the Life" program. How well has that program worked, and what lies in store for its future?

MR:
We are in the early stages of piloting the "Day in the Life" program. Key individuals from our corporate office will spend about a week in our customer contact centers learning and observing. If the pilot achieves its goals, then we will roll it out companywide.

SNEWS: What advice would you give to other CEOs to help them get the most out of an undercover experience with their company?

MR:
Get lots of sleep. It was exhausting. I think you need to approach the situation willing to listen and learn. The whole experience was really amazing.

SNEWS: You've said that the show was a life-changing experience. How has it affected your efforts to balance personal life and work life?

MR:
I am working harder at better prioritizing the activities in both my personal life and work life.

Click here to watch the full program.

--Marcus Woolf

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