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Undercover Boss - CEO of Viridor, Colin Drummond, sorts the rubbish from the recyclable

13th Aug 2010
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This week recycling and waste management company Viridor sent the CEO, Colin Drummond, undercover to see if the company was squeaky clean – or belongs on the rubbish heap.

Colin has been CEO since 1993 and the 59 year old works behind a desk, far away from the production sorting lines his agency and permanent staff toil on. However (as we revealed in our interview) he’s a highly principled man and takes on the challenge of undercover boss himself, despite worries about his fitness.

For his first task, the bin run, Colin is up before dawn and joining in the cab banter. There’s a lot of laughter. He tackles the overfilled bins and appreciates how tough it is.

Next day he works on a community recycling site – where conflict is a real issue. At this site they meet and greet everyone who arrives – and they have doubled their recycling rate.

The CEO needs to be ‘more friendly with his greeting’ (I laughed as Colin demands of a customer: ‘What have you got in there?’).

However, he knows driving up the recycling rate is essential and if decent customer service can win this, then this is highly achievable.

Next he heads to Filton in Bristol to spend a shift on the picking line – an old fashioned, open line for a ten hour shift. The amount of stuff whizzing past him looks dizzying.

In the mess room, which is a state, Colin asks the team what might make it better. They explain most of the plants are now enclosed and have extractors to keep the dust under control. A decent canteen wouldn’t go amiss either. He’s not impressed with the current standards there.

Another picking line, this time enclosed, another dizzying shift. Most of the pickers are agency workers, and Justin, an experienced picker, explains he would like a permanent job.

Finally he visits the original site in Plympton, Plymouth. There he meets Tim, who is undergoing treatment for a rare thyroid cancer. He travels to London for treatment about once a month (using his holiday allowance) and carries on working. He loved driving the lorries but is not really well enough to do the role he once did. Colin is touched by his dedication.

Boardroom time: Colin wants them to address the welfare of the Bristol plant – he suggests tightening up policy to match the dedication of the employees. He also is concerned with talent – the experienced agency workers like Justin need to be kept on!

Reveal time: Colin offers Justin the security of a permanent contract and suggests improvements to the Filton plant – the interview is slightly uncomfortable but he allocates them a decent budget. I think Tim from Plympton is going to cry at Colin’s words. He wants to help him get back into the driving job he loves and Tim does actually well up when Colin insists he takes a holiday on the company.

I spoke to this week’s undercover boss for the interview and he came across in interview as a highly ethical, very intelligent man, who really seemed to get the people issues he was addressing.

I think the takeaway from this programme comes best with a quote from Tim, when he said: ‘Loyalty goes both ways’.


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By ianprice
17th Aug 2010 11:34

Am I alone in feeling more than a twinge of unease about the near-tearful footage of Tim, a man who was coping with illness with humbling dignity?

The CEO came across very well and indeed with a deep sense of his ethical responsibility for his role as an employer. So why the X-Factor style emotional journey into Tim's story? No doubt he would have been supportive of the whole thing and both men seemed genuinely moved. But are employees in Undercover Boss given the option of not taking part? They must feel under some pressure to be part of it...

What about the tense cab-ride to head office? It may have been a set-up but he looked genuinely drawn and concerned. So what is the CEO's ethical position when it comes to subjecting an ill employee to a stressful situation for the sake of entertainment?

This is, in essence, mass-market entertainment with a closer resemblance to programmes such as X-Factor than is obvious at first glance. At least participants in most reality shows - including The Apprentice and Dragons' Den - volunteer for the experience. Call me old-fashioned but I can't help feeling that this covert exploitation of employees for TV entertainment is a breach of the employer's duty of care.

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