[Rearview]In the Field Incognito

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Orkin President and COO John Wilson recently appeared on the popular CBS series ‘Undercover Boss,’ and took some valuable lessons back to the office.

June 25, 2013
Bill Delaney

Orkin’s John Wilson didn’t come to his leadership position in the company without spending plenty of time on the front lines. “I grew up in the business at Orkin, coming up from the bottom, but I haven’t been out there in this capacity for a long time,” Wilson said, relating information from his recent experience on the CBS reality show “Undercover Boss.” He spent a number of days in the field with Orkin technicians — they were unaware that their new “trainee” was really the head of the company — for the show. “The opportunity to go out and see firsthand any pain points we might be creating for our employees was appealing to me.” Wilson said.

Going undercover was a challenge for as familiar a face as Wilson’s— the show’s producers told the technicians Wilson worked side-by-side with that they were in fact filming a different, entirely fictional reality show called “The Startup,” where Wilson played a contestant named Bob Knox, who was trying to win money to start a business of his dreams.

In addition, the producers needed to keep Wilson from going inside any brick-and-mortar Orkin branches, lest any of the branch managers recognize him. “I know those guys so well,” he said. Instead, Wilson met with the technicians he worked with on-site at several locations across the country, including Louisiana, Colorado and California — but it still wasn’t easy keeping his true identity under wraps. In one instance, Wilson said that refraining from using common industry lingo was a challenge.

Having worked in many positions at Orkin — including sales inspector, branch manager, region manager and more — Wilson said the experience only heightened the appreciation he has for the men and women who work for Orkin on the ground level.

“I have a great admiration and appreciation for our people and how hard they work,” he said. “But what was great was getting out with our employees and giving them an opportunity to tell their story and tell what great things they do for their customers.

“What we do as an industry is well worthwhile and interesting,” he continued. “And I think Orkin employees as a whole, they feel good about what they do.”

The experience did tune Wilson in to some “pain points.” While serving with a long-tenured employee of about 25 years, Wilson said the technician relayed concerns about how newer, less tenured employees receive nearly the same amount of vacation time as he does. Wilson said this came as an effort to encourage new employees to make a career of their job at Orkin — he said the firm is now considering adding more vacation for longer-tenured technicians.

As well, Wilson said he learned that some technicians, once they receive their schedule, don’t necessarily like to deviate from it — which is at odds with a company initiative Orkin has recently undertaken. In recent years, Orkin has tried to service new customers as quickly as possible, Wilson said. “We know if we don’t get to them, if they have an emergency, they’ll call someone else,” he said. “New customers have an emergency, where existing customers should not have an emergency.” Thus, a new customer may take priority — even if a technician is already scheduled to visit an existing account that day.

Overall, Wilson said the experience was overwhelmingly positive. “I got to meet some great employees,” he said. “That was just a lot of fun.” — Bill Delaney