Sunday, May 24, 2015

Undercover Boss: ABM's Slipsager's Smarts Not so Blatant

Henrik Slipsager, CEO of ABM;
potential reality-TV comedian.

ABM Industries Inc. (NYSE:ABM) reported for its fourth quarter ended Oct. 31, 2010, revenue of $901.4 million for fiscal year 2010 vs. the previous year's $868.0 million; net income was $21.8 million, a 45.2% increase from the previous year's fourth quarter. For the fiscal year revenue was $3.5 billion, flat compared to year-ago revenues. Net income was $64.1 million, an increase of 18.1% compared to fiscal year 2009.

"The company's fourth quarter results delivered a strong finish to the fiscal year," said Henrik Slipsager, president and chief executive officer, ABM Industries.

What a relief that must have been for shareholders; having watched Slipsager on CBS's Undercover Boss it's good to know he is a competent CEO, because he is not competent at much else.

Now you may ask, as I did, what is ABM?

ABM Industries, which operates through its subsidiaries (collectively "ABM"), is a leading provider of facility services. With fiscal 2010 revenues of approximately $3.5 billion and more than 95,000 employees, ABM provides janitorial, facility, engineering, parking and security services for thousands of commercial, industrial, government and retail clients across the United States and various international locations. ABM's business services include ABM Janitorial Services, ABM Facility Services, ABM Engineering Services, Ampco System Parking and ABM Security Services.

So, with all those different areas the company is in, we see that Slipsager has so many ways he can screw up -- and he doesn't disappoint! Whether driving a bus, washing windows or serving on the cleaning crew, a disguised (his hair was dyed and he wore a baseball cap) Henrik scored an F by his own underlings; he was even fired from the bus driver position after he broke all the rules and "cussed" over the PA system.

Undercover ABM CEO does nothing properly.

Henrik made for great TV. He was hilarious; I think if he left the business world, he'd have a great career making comedies. His deadpan demeanor gives him his own unique style, especially when he is being ripped apart for not slowing down while racing through a parking lot or scrubbing a toilet bowel hard enough. I thought this was one of the best episodes ever; he didn't even try for appearance's sake, as so many other CEOs do on the show.

(I don't mean any disrespect as to 9/11; as you'll read below, the company was strongly affected by the terrorist strikes at the World Trade Center, and the show was bittersweet in that so much of it, especially the second half, is devoted to 9/11. But I chose to focus on the funnier parts of the show. I just put together a post about the murder of an 18-year-old woman; I am getting too depressed to go down the path of tragedy again. I need to laugh -- we all do once in a while. So read this post and watch the videos with that in mind.)

For the show, his cover was that he was an immigrant from Holland competing with another, younger candidate for a job in the United States. (Yeah, right, like they wouldn't just hire the younger guy in a split second).

Slipsager's first job was at the Tampa airport, working as shuttle operator for ABM's Ampco System Parking division. Perhaps due to too little sleep -- his alarm clock roused him at 4:30am, a time "I don't usually wake up," he said, -- he was pooped, too slow helping people with their luggage but too fast while driving. The constant stream of criticism from Kenny, who is "training" him, reaches a crescendo when Slipsager "cusses" on the shuttles speaker for all the passengers to hear. Slipsager was promptly fired from his duties. (Watch the video for all the hilarious details).

Slipsager scrubs a toilet. Or tries to.

His fear of heights doesn't help his attempt to be a window washer; and he doesn't exactly excel at facilities maintenance, as the other video shows. (Ever see a real-live CEO scrub a toilet? Here's your chance!)

I liked this episode a lot, but I have to add that, overall, I think Undercover Boss has an obvious inherent unfairness to it. The lucky few employees who come into contact with the incognito CEO --and I believe they are carefully vetted somehow because they all seem to be the best of the best -- end up with perks that no one else in the company gets.

With Slipsager, for example, one employee gets an-all-expense-paid trip to Hawaii with his wife for their anniversary; another -- the bus driver, Kenny -- got entry to the company's management program, and Henrik said the company would pay his college expenses as well.

What about the rest of the employees?

I should add that ABM was seriously impacted by 9/11, as Undercover Boss showed. Two of the workers who participated with him in Undercover Boss were at Ground Zero on "the day." Talking to them about their experiences  was the hardest part of Slipsager's doing the show, he said.

A total of 17 ABM employees died on 9/11; hundreds worked at the World Trade Center when the towers fell, but some were on different shifts.

In fact, one of the gifts he gave to an employee who shared a segment with him on the show was a reunion for all the surviving employees who were at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Larry, the employee, has been with ABM for 37 years (he was also the one Slipsager gave the all-expenses-paid vacation to).

Maria, another employee with whom Slipsager worked -- scrubbing the toilets being the highlight -- lost her 27-year-old nephew on 9/11. He was a foreman for ABM and was working on the 96th floor of one of the towers.


  1. While I agree with your criticism of the show, I do not share your enthusiasm for it. I haven’t seen the episode you commented on, but I find the show in general to be a load of bullshit. Some self-congratulating multi-millionaire CEO throws a few crumbs to some underpaid staffers to make it seem as if he is in touch with the common people, while getting 60 minutes of free advertising in front of a nationwide audience. It seems like the employees’ stories would be much more interesting than the rich old white guys’. Why do we continue to hold corporate America in such high esteem after all the damage they’ve done (with the help of the Bush administration) to the nation’s economy? It never ceases to amaze me what crap passes for entertainment on television – the cast of Jersey Shore, Real Housewives, Kardashians – all talentless, brain-dead, narcissistic morons with little in common with the multitudes who tune in each week. Why not showcase a family of minimum wage earners struggling to put food on the table each night? Now that would be reality.

  2. Hi Janice - just checking, you did click the "read more" link, right? All my posts are continued from the cover page, but the "read more" link is a little buried and I am always wondering if people read the whole post, and not just the first few graphs.

    Thanks for the comment!