Editor’s Note: Here’s one more story about this week’s telecast of “Undercover Boss,” featuring Jim Rogers, CEO of Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA). This version comes from the Reno (Nev.) Gazette-Journal.
Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) CEO Jim Rogers shaved his beard and donned a hairpiece for 10 days to tape an episode of “Undercover Boss,” a reality show that sends executives to the front lines of their business to see how they perform in the trenches.
“They gave me glasses and made me a kind of a Forest Gump, if you will, with my top button buttoned and high white socks and tennis shoes,” said Rogers, who appears on the show this Friday. Rogers, who splits his time between Reno and Billings, Mont., cleaned toilets, piloted boats, cut down trees with a backhoe and rode a zip line during the taping.
“This was 10 days in the making,” Rogers said. “We were probably shooting eight to 10 hours a day, and at times there were six to seven cameras on me.”
Rogers is an Eagle Scout, so he knows his way around a campground. His biggest fear was that he’d be discovered.
Fake reality show explains cameras
So, how do you explain all those cameras? Rogers said employees thought they were participating in a pilot for a show called “Life Swap.” Rogers was introduced as Tim Bickford, an unemployed accountant from San Francisco and a contestant on “Life Swap,” the fake show. It gets more complicated when, at the end of the show, Rogers changes disguises again and plays an investor, who wants a report on how Bickford is performing as a campground worker.
Eventually, the CEO comes clean. “At one point I announce that I’m not Tim, I’m Jim and you’re on ‘Undercover Boss.’ ” Rogers told me that the employees were shocked to learn the man they had spent supervising was really their boss and not Tim the unemployed CPA.
“It was absolutely so much fun,” said Rogers, who played five different people on the show.
The producers loved taping in the outdoor campgrounds, and in Reno.
Rogers said the show provides an opportunity for people to see behind the scenes at some of America’s most popular companies.
“It gives a perspective on small business, and at the end of the day, it’s small business that’s going to bring America back,” he said.
The Reno connection
The show reinforced what he learned from 20 years working at Harrah’s: that customers want personal engagement.
“This is what’s so wonderful about Reno,” he said. “When you look at the hospitality leadership of the Caranos, the Ascuagas, the Farahis, the owners of the Peppermill; the Bill Harrahs of the world, the Harolds of the world — we have such hospitality leadership and those people are spending time involved with their guests.”
“These things don’t happen in Las Vegas,” Rogers continued. “They don’t happen in Indian casinos in California.”
Rogers still believes personal contact is good for business. For example, if he can get the owner of a campground to meet a guest, the overall satisfaction rating by the guest goes up by 16 points.
“I’ve always had a management by walking around sort of style,” he said.
“I always feel the front line is where you find the most innovative sense and greatest creativity, and you really get to find out what the guest is all about.”
What did he learn from the reality show? “It gets people out walking in the shoes of employees and guests, and that’s vital to the success of business today,” he said. “I enjoyed it thoroughly.”
KOA is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and Rogers said he wants his employees to spend time interacting with guests.
In other words, more s’mores and less paperwork. Sounds like a plan.