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Undercover Boss - CEO of Harry Ramsden's, Marija Simovic - out of the frying pan and into the fryer?

30th Jul 2010
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Harry Ramsden’s new CEO Marija Simovic goes undercover to discover why the classic brand is struggling.

The first female to star in the series; it was interesting to note how she was treated by the programme compared to the men. I don’t recall so much emphasis on the male CEO’s lifestyle choices, whereas (Australian, in case you couldn't guess by the accent) Marija was portrayed as a (perhaps stereotypical) single-but-happy careerist, as if that was fundamental to the programme. Maybe it was, or perhaps I didn’t notice the emphasis with the male bosses? Either way it grated a little for me in what I thought was a really meaty (or fishy, thanks, Rick of FlipChartFairytales) episode.

Harry Ramsden’s was sold 10 years ago and has suffered from several takeovers and successive changes of management. It transpires the menu has barely changed in 80 years. One of the board members says “We don’t know what’s wrong with the brand” which I think is slightly worrying. (Then again the CEO is setting off on this fact-finding mission so I should probably let that one lie...)

Having bleached her hair and ditched the straighteners, Marija sets off to work in a restaurant which has halved its profits. There’s nothing really wrong with the service or restaurant, and Marija works with Kelly, the manager who really mucks in with her team and does as much as possible herself. She’s also got a style with customers the voiceover describes as ‘unique’, but Marija thinks she’s great.

What is wrong is that the restaurant has got competition with a foodcourt in a shopping mall next door and although they had the opportunity to move to it, they didn’t.

Kelly is surviving on pensioner meal deals and regulars who come in three times a week. They serve 10 meals over the lunchtime ‘rush’. Uh oh. Marija mucks in, although there’s not much going on, and when a customer complains about the state of the loos she’s down there with Kelly and a brush. It seems the toilets aren’t that dirty really, so not much excitement there.

Kelly blames some of the issues on the unimaginative menu and gives some suggestions. She also thanks Marija warmly as she leaves, which I think is lovely.

The Great Yarmouth restaurant should be a goldmine apparently but it’s a crazy place with bits of fishy plastic hanging off the walls. It’s over three floors and is a complete maze. It needs a good paint at least, and at best should be condemned for just being too wierd.

It’s a similar story in the kitchen – some of the fryers don’t work, the kitchen order printer doesn’t work, and the result is a busy restaurant which can’t keep up with demand. Customers walk out because they are kept waiting for too long. Not good.

There’s always at least one rising star in the programme and this time it’s Ashleigh, a driven young HR postgraduate who has worked at Harry Ramsden’s since the age of 15 (15?!). She’s noticed the training is rubbish and has a plan to fix it. It sounds like this bright young thing has already been recognised as staff are being sent to her for training already. During the ‘chat’ on camera, I notice CEO is getting all over-excited by the manager/HR girl and asking all kinds of crazy management questions. I wonder if this will get picked up on…

However, it’s continually pleasing for Marija to see how much the staff care about the work they do.

Next she’s off to Blackpool where it’s all go and the restaurant is doing well, not least because of some amazing staff (this programme really is HR on TV). Marija doesn’t take to waitressing straightaway, it has to be said, which nicely highlights how amazing Tuc Tuc and Deirdre are. These crazy gals serve up 100 meals per hour during busy periods, all within four minutes of being prepared.

However it’s not a total love-fest: there’s room for improvement here too. Marija notices there’s no waitress alert system, meaning the girls have to dash back and forth to the kitchen to check on their orders. There’s also very little room for them to manouvre in the service area.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Daniel, originally from Poland, helps Marija learn to cook. He’s got an amazing story and is clearly a grafter. He’s ambitious and want to be an assistant manager.

Marija goes back to the board, claiming brunette is best and puts forward her proposed changes.

She promises to revamp all the tired restaurants, make sure there is decent equipment and show more appreciation to their people., as she says: “Without them we wouldn’t have a business.”

It’s quite moving actually seeing her say “We’re not going to ask you to work in those conditions anymore.”

Kelly the manager is first in on the reveal and although Marija can’t promise her the branch is secure, she promises to commit to her and asks her to help from the menu development team. The crazy maze-restaurant gets a refurb pronto, and Daniel gets a promotion. Hooray!

Ashleigh doesn’t come to the reveal because, clever girl, (we like the 22 year old HR pro), she’s worked it out. It was the accent, and the questions. Marija gets her involved in starting HR and training as a central team to make it better for all.

You get the impression of a company which has been through the mill but that this new CEO is ready to start again and build, using solid human resources as a base. As ever, although it is usually good coverage for business, this episode of Undercover Boss brings the fish n’ chip chain into a very good light with the direct and focussed CEO. I'm genuinely rooting for them.


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Replies (7)

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By [email protected]
30th Jul 2010 16:45

Did you notice the lack of proper catering headgear - thought the CEos hair was going to get fried with the chips at one point!!!

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By Charlie Duff
03rd Aug 2010 11:37

Just shows I am too used to working in an office and not a food environment, well spotted! Crispy fried perm, anyone?

I thought she was quite ballsy - I was pretty impressed!

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By jkchapman
03rd Aug 2010 16:13

The programme was as much a comment about the senior management team as about the workforce.  Who has been responsible for maintenance in the past, and why have so many requests for equipment repairs gone unheeded?

And when one of the Directors says, "We don't know what is wrong with the brand", it just made me wonder why he had never gone out into the marketplace and restaurants to find out.

Perhaps they could develop a new twist to the programme. 

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By glynlumley
03rd Aug 2010 17:39

 Charlie - good post. I've put a cross reference to it at my blog post on the same subject. Regards Glyn


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By Charlie Duff
04th Aug 2010 09:08

They were on the verge of giving up in that strange ex-sea museum place, weren't they? It was sad to see the manager's reaction to the disrepair, she looked exhausted.

As I said that comment grated with me, although I know they were about to start looking into it.

I thought it was the most interesting episode so far though - what about you?


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By ianprice
04th Aug 2010 09:37

I found this episode unsatisfying in the same way as the last episode - nothing like the feeling I have after a good helping of cod and chips! All the people turn out to be great - it's just that the previous management has let everybody down...

What was missing of course was the boardroom questioning of whomever had line responsibility for getting the chip fryers repaired when the branch had been asking repeatedly. It just feels like very selective personal encounters packaged up into a form of "journey" for entertainment.

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By Charlie Duff
04th Aug 2010 15:12

Thanks Ian

I agree - you make a valid point which could be applied to all the episodes: I believe they have a certain amount of editorial control with the production company. And no one wants to look bad, but it needs to be a good watch too: maybe they exaggerated how clueless they were to make it look better in the end? I almost hope so!

I was a bit won over by it though, and thought the CEO was definitely a force for good. It certainly looked like a challenge!


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