Five business lessons learned from going undercover in a company

During my recent experience on the CBS Emmy Award winning show “Undercover Boss,” I learned more than just how to hand roll dough and deliver late-night pizzas. The eye-opening experience provided business lessons that not only didn’t I anticipate, but in many ways changed the course of how I run Marco’s Pizza and how the brand’s 700 stores will operate.
While I made several discoveries on my journey, below are five that I believe can serve as lessons for leaders running any type of business:
Investing in Safety and Security of Employees as Top Priority
Going undercover, I discovered that while I had been laser-focused on creating a culture of accountability at the home office and driving sales to increase unit economics for franchisees, adequate safety and security measures for late-night product delivery drivers had been overlooked.
Since the discovery, I invested in improvements to technology, as well as beefed up overall security and process for late-night store deliveries to help stock up for the next day’s business.
Spotting High-Level Potential in Low-Level Positions
During the journey, I discovered what I saw to be true leadership potential in a young store employee. The employee explained that during a previous change of store ownership, he was responsible for informing, educating and helping train the new franchise owner for a smooth transition.
Through his interactions with the employee, I realized that there could be a gold mine of employees across the system who possess a strong potential to move up with the brand — employees with a strong work ethic and character.
As a result, I instituted a rule in which all corporate employees are required to work at least one day in a Marco’s Pizza store to help recognize potential future leaders at the store level. Doing so, I believe, will also provide the corporate team with insight into the two key aspects that will make up the heart of a great brand — quality product and quality people.
Empathizing Over Work and Family Balance
The experience led me to some personal soul-searching and reflecting on life, including better balance of work and family. Over the course of my own life, I struggled between putting work first or family first and often sacrificed precious time with my children to persevere in the work place. Seeing that predicament through my employee’s confessions struck a chord.
Not only I am working to better prioritize my own family, I am developing initiatives to help provide Marco’s Pizza employees the opportunity to prioritize life’s most important moments.
Reducing Physical Exhaustion of Employees
Working in strenuous jobs within the company provided me with an inside perspective on the physical demands of the work.
Whether an employee is hand-rolling and hand-kneading dough, loading and unloading delivery trucks with heavy bags of flour and other food product every day or night, I discovered the need to continuously refine working methods, look into machinery and make overall environmental changes designed to improve employee wellness.
Addressing Low Brand Awareness
In addition to employee issues, I observed a startling lack of recognition of the Marco’s Pizza brand in the markets I visited. Compared to other brands that have national advertising, I learned from customers, employees and franchisees that the Marco’s Pizza name is not as widely known or recognized around the country as the corporate team had hoped.
Realizing that consumers can’t appreciate the Marco’s Pizza brand if they aren’t familiar with it, I am investing energy and resources into creative and penetrating ways to catapult awareness of Marco’s.

Overall, if I had to give one piece of advice to company employees based on my entire “undercover” trip, it’s that people should always be the best they can be and go the extra mile, because it will not go unnoticed. I was also reminded of the importance of remaining grateful and humble, because it just feels better and goes a long way.

Bryon Stephens, president and COO of Marco’s Pizza Franchising LLC. Marco’s Pizza is the fastest-growing pizza company in the United States, and has grown to operate more than 650 stores in 35 states, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and India.