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Undercover Boss - COO of The Jockey Club, Paul Fisher, battles with brand

6th Aug 2010
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Will Paul Fisher be romping all the way to the finish line aboard the fine filly, The Jockey Club? Or will he fall at the first hurdle (groan)? Welcome to the world of horseracing for this week’s Undercover Boss.

So after all I said last week when I thought Marija’s life was being unfairly scrutinised, this week there’s even more focus on Paul Fisher’s home life. We see him with his wife and kids playing on a rocking horse.

They seem to be quite into the racing life, and then we meet Paul’s racehorse. Ok, yes, he loves it. So much that he’s missed three out of the four birthdays his son has had. Maybe his ‘six figure’ salary is a comfort, maybe he isn’t that bad a dad really, but you feel he knows he’s missing out on something, and I can’t help but hope he works out a better way. Loving your work is a brilliant thing, but if you’re suffering and missing your family, something has to give... doesn't it?

However it’s not just a love of racing which drives him. He’s done phenomenally well. The Jockey Club has sailed through the recession, partly because Paul was extremely strategic by the sounds of it, and it did mean he made lots of redundancies. There are now even fewer full time staff than there was before. Race days happen about 20 days a year per racecourse, and the Club owns 14, including Carlisle and Cheltenham. The shifts are 7am to 5pm and the gate, ticket, catering and other staff are almost all casual workers.

Paul’s challenge is to work out who these people are, what motivates them and what their work is like. His cover story is that he is an accountant recently made redundant looking for a change of direction. He pops in some contacts and tries not to shave for a few days but he gets recognised on his first day and sees a few people he knows. When he gets spotted he takes them aside and asks them to keep it quiet which seems to do the trick, but I was totally expecting a full cover blow to happen.

The COO is quite visible and active it would seem – and I think that’s pretty healthy really. Most of the Bosses in this series have been new, but as Paul has been there a while it would be odd if he didn’t get recognised – I’d certainly question his management style if nobody knew what he looked like.

Despite the casual nature of the work there are some people, such as 81 year old George, who are ‘regulars’ at each race day. George is retired but enjoys the work and is incredibly active. Paul can’t believe he’s 81 and neither can I. He’s been coming to work on the turnstiles for 15 years and has never missed a day yet.

On the turnstiles Paul checks tickets, welcomes customers and confiscates alcohol. After an hour or two, he’s describing the work as ‘relentless’, and he really hates it when George puts him on the megaphone to direct the crowds. Best stick to the day job… but it does give him an appreciation and new found respect for his occasional workforce. It’s a shock to him however when he realises George has no clue about The Jockey Club. Jockey what? (It turns into a bit of theme this, just to warn you.)

Paul hits the kitchens next. Dinner will set you back £50 per head and you’ll be served by temporary, probably inexperienced staff. It sounds like a nightmare but actually the customers seem pretty pleased and it’s a valued part of raceday for many. Jackie is the real star of this episode: she gathers all the temporary waiting staff (mostly students) under her wings like a mother hen, and they respond to her warmth and love her little crosswords and competitions she runs for server of the day.

She spends the management tips on prizes like a giant Easter egg for winners and it seems to work – people come back to work for her. Paul tries out waiting and unsurprisingly, doesn’t enjoy this either. He’s a bit of a nervous wreck. Jackie clucks around him, saying he needs to improve his multi tasking, and whispers to the camera that his hands are visibly shaking. She sends him to the kitchen to recover his nerves and he mucks in with the washing up – the kitchen is tiny and there is no dishwasher, but the food they turn out is beautifully presented.

Paul is understandably impressed with Jackie’s innovative ideas for recognition. He wishes he’d thought of that.
Moving on to Carlisle, he works with groundsman Tony. He lives on the course with his family. His son Thomas has worked with him for 10 years and hopes to take his place when his dad retires. They have a team of casual staff who again come back to work with him. It’s physically demanding work for a man in his 60s but Tony is the racecourse and the racecourse is Tony. He doesn’t even follow racing… it’s all about the course.
But when he retires, he’ll have to leave the house. You get the feeling there’s something which could be done about this.

Paul is still concerned that people who are the lifeblood of the racecourses have no idea what the Jockey Club is. But what can he do about it?

Next experience for Paul is working with Stephen the declarations runner. He’s running around all day with chalk, names and information. Could this be done by a computer? Yes, but after working with him Paul decides you don’t get the same passion from a PC as you do Stephen, who works on his holidays from the Post Office where he usually toils.

At least Stephen has heard of the Jockey Club. I start thinking Paul will be delighted with this but then there’s a crucial mistake. Stephen thinks they have 20 courses. Wrong, Stephen, it’s 14. Oh dear. Paul goes off on one again about the lack of brand awareness. He wants the casual staff to live the brand. I’m cynical about how possible or desirable this is – you can dress them up in uniforms, give them baseball caps with the logo on or whatever but will this make someone who works for you only occasionally ‘live the brand’? Is it not enough that they have great supervisors and managers who inspire people? They will have to do some pretty clever stuff to achieve this (and I’d love to know if there are any good ideas you have on this).

Reveal time was a little uninspiring – employee of the month scheme is to start (and I guess it’s a good start, I just wish it’d been something a bit more, exciting, perhaps?), and surprise, surprise, Thomas will succeed his father (good bit of succession planning there, tick), and they get to keep the house, and the new hurdles course will be named after him. Oh, and they are making Jackie’s recognition plans formal, and what’s more, they’re going to pay for it. And, she gets a new kitchen and a dishwasher. Stephen meanwhile is a real winner, with a full-time job and a badge to get him into all the courses for free.

I was a bit disappointed they didn’t mention anything about what they were going to do about the brand awareness but when I tweeted about this, the Jockey Club did reply to tell me they have hired a director of communications and are rolling out company values across the organisation. (Thanks for the reply guys.)

Ultimately they’ve got a long way to go: Paul is right, the employees, no matter how casual, need some personal recognition and to feel valued. It’s not rocket science… but it is HR.
 

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By alisonrbcm
08th Aug 2010 17:18

I’ve loved all the series. Yet I realise what really pushes my buttons is something that Paul said about learning about himself as a result of taking part and the need to reflect on his life balance and the impact that has on his family. I had the same reaction to Noel Fitzpatrick the Bionic Vet when he sat on the floor at 2 in the morning shattered saying “I just want to sleep in my own bed”.  My personal hope is that both Paul and Noel take time to make the changes necessary so that they can lead more passionate lives. I’ve continued on this theme on my blog today.

Next week's looks interesting :-)

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