Saab History Interviews Joel Manby About Undercover Boss

Posted on 24. Mar, 2010 by in 2010-2019

Saab History has had the great chance once again to interview Joel Manby, Saab Cars USA’s former President (1996-2000). This interview is about about his recently mentioned experience on the CBS television series “Undercover Boss”.

A sincere thank you to Joel for his input about this series prior to the air date this Sunday night, March 28th at 9pm EST. I particularly like his last response pertaining to Saab Automobile.

Enjoy the interview below:

1) How did you initially get involved in CBS “Undercover Boss”?

The producers contacted us. They were looking for an entertainment company and theme parks provide a good visual background. Because we are independently owned, not associated with a media conglomerate, and have a variety of properties—-theme parks, aquariums, sightseeing operations— we were a good option for them.

2) What were some of the areas of the program that interested you most?

At first we were very skeptical. Anytime someone proactively approaches us and wants to produce a television show on our property, then healthy skepticism follows. But as we engaged in serious dialogue with them, we realized that they were really searching for companies who would embrace the concept and be willing to hold the mirror up to see what we could learn about ourselves. This wasn’t a scripted television program but rather an honest look at our employees and their roles within our organization. I know that when I visit our properties that I get special treatment, even though I don’t want it or ask for it. This was a unique opportunity to work the front lines in a way that I would never be able
to do currently. I know we have terrific employees—and I wanted to witness first-hand how dedicated and passionate our employees are as they interact with our guests to ‘create memories worth repeating’. I didn’t just want to observe, I wanted to participate and feel their passion. So, highlighting the good people of Herschend Family Entertainment was important to me.

Secondly, we operate our company based on a set of Core Values and Servant Leadership principles that I think are rare in the business world today. Obviously we are driven by business results but our owners, the Herschend Family, built our company based on values regarding how we treat our guests, our vendors, and each other. We are as equally concerned with the manner in which we get our results as we are with the results themselves. I wanted to demonstrate that there are faith-based companies that operate on traditional values that are successful.

And lastly, I really did want to see if there were systemic changes that we could make within the company that would help us attract and retain great employees. We have a goal to make the company a “Great Place to Work for Great People” and I felt that going undercover may help provide insight into how we can continue to work on that initiative. We know that the level of enthusiasm our guests have will never rise above the level of enthusiasm that our employees demonstrate. So this is a critical area for us to keep at the forefront of our business.

3) What did you learn about your role and your own approach in this show?

I visit our properties on a regular basis so I feel that I am pretty in-touch with the issues facing the company. However, this was a healthy reminder for me that behind the policies and the numbers on spreadsheets are individuals, each with unique circumstances. I’ll think about a Richard or Howard or Jennifer (individuals with whom I job shadowed) the next time we are making decisions that impact our employees and their work conditions.

4) What did you learn about your employees and the company itself? With the economic situation our country is in, obviously there are a lot of people that are hurting. And the people that I worked alongside certainly have obstacles and challenges in their lives. But what struck me—in every single case—was that this group of employees all worked hard and displayed exceptional attitudes as they worked to improve their circumstances. Not one of them complained. And, in fact, in many cases they didn’t even tell their co-workers or friends about the challenging—and in some cases, catastrophic– circumstances that they were facing.

What I learned about the company is that while we have programs in place to offer assistance to our employees in these circumstances, we have to do a better job of communicating what is available and to erase any stigma associated with applying for help. We care about our employees and want them to access the assistance that is available to them. We just have to do a better job of outlining the extent of the programs and make it easier for them to apply.

5) If you were to do this again, what would you do differently if anything?

I’d get rested up before we embarked on the journey! It was a grueling period of time with long hours and stressful situations. But honestly, I don’t think I would do anything differently. The key for me was to have an open mind about what I might encounter—and not just be open-minded towards it but really to be willing to embrace opportunities to make our company better—not just for the individuals who participated on the show but for the organization as a whole.

6) Overall, did you believe there was more to gain from being part of this series than traditional professional development programs?

I think there is tremendous value anytime you can work alongside your team members and hear unfiltered truths about your business. There is nothing like hands-on, on-the-job training. I felt it was extremely valuable to me in a way that traditional development programs could not come close to matching.

7) Could companies like Saab benefit?

Anytime you have a chance to go to the front lines when the employees DON’T know who you are, it is an opportunity that should not be passed down. I think Saab has more fundamental issues to deal with right now; but at some point it would be a good thing for the new US CEO or COO to do….

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One Response to “Saab History Interviews Joel Manby About Undercover Boss”

  1. Rico

    24. Mar, 2010

    Mhh…I can not see the video because I live in the “wrong” geographic region – Germany..??
    When I try to open the Video i get the information, that “The video you have requested is not available for your geographic region”

    What kind of “protection” is this??


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