'Undercover Boss' role opens Republic Airways CEO's eyes
10/16/2010 3:00 PM'
Undercover Boss, featuring Bryan Bedford, of Republic Airways Holdings, airs at 9 p.m. ET Sunday on CBS.
ABOUT BRYAN BEDFORD
Title: Chairman, president and chief executive officer of Republic Airways Holdings.
Education: Graduated from Florida State University with a bachelor's degree in accounting and finance. Earned his master's in business administration from the University of South Florida. He also is a certified public accountant and holds commercial, multi-engine and instrument flight ratings.
Career: Bedford joined Republic in 1999 as president and CEO. From 1995 to 1999, he served as president and CEO of Mesaba Holdings (a Northwest Airlines carrier). From 1994 to 1995, he was president and CEO of Business Express Airlines, a New England-based regional air carrier. He also has held senior executive positions at Express Airlines, Westair Holdings, Aspen Airways and Continental Express.
Service: Board of directors of the Regional Airline Association, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, the Greater Milwaukee Council and St. Theodore Guerin Catholic High School in Noblesville.
Personal: Bedford and his wife, Maria, have eight children, ages 2 to 17. In their free time, the couple volunteer at their church.
"'Undercover Boss' role opens Republic Airways CEO's eyes";
var articleSummary = "He went from head honcho of an airline company to the guy dumping the lavatory waste from the aircraft."
INDIANAPOLIS — He went from head honcho of an airline company to the guy dumping the lavatory waste from the aircraft.
He went from, well, how can we say it? Bald to hairy.
It all happened when Republic Airways Holdings' Chairman, President and CEO Bryan Bedford disguised himself to work undercover on the front lines with employees at his Indianapolis-based company. He did it for an episode of the TV series "Undercover Boss" that will air at 9 p.m. Sunday on CBS.
Though the show aims to entertain, it became quite serious for Bedford, whose billion-dollar-a-year business ranks as one of the top air carriers in the country.
He said he learned all sorts of things during the August taping, including how tough it is to be a flight attendant (he contributed to a flight's late departure) and how companywide pay cuts were affecting his employees' lives.
But perhaps most important, he learned what he was doing wrong as a boss.
"What was eye-opening, the most noticeable thing was just the disconnect and (poor) communication between the management team and front-line employees," Bedford said.
While working in different roles for the company — including cleaning aircraft, checking baggage, dumping aircraft toilets and standing at the ticket counter — he asked fellow employees why they didn't take their complaints to management to implore change.
The same response came time and time again: "No, I've talked to management about this stuff, and they never listen," Bedford said.
Though that was shocking and a bit hurtful to hear, it prompted Bedford to plan some solutions for the near future. They include having other executives work the front line with employees and gathering teams of bosses to meet with small groups of employees.
Those types of changes are exactly what a gig like "Undercover Boss" should bring about, said Karl Ahlrichs, a human resources consultant at Gregory & Appel Insurance in Indianapolis.
"There's nothing like putting on sheep's clothing and going out amongst the flock," he said.
And in the end, the employees learn something as well.
"Business gets a bad rap in contemporary cultures," Ahlrichs said. "One of the key messages in these shows is that the people who are running businesses aren't really different from the people who are four levels down."
Sometimes in the daily grind, that gets forgotten, Bedford said.
"When you are the boss, you are sort of sitting in the office running business based on spreadsheets and revenues versus cost. It's very impersonal," he said. "When you are actually working side by side and hearing about their struggles, it's very personal. It's life-changing. You can never go back to thinking of them as anything other than family."
And, as often takes place on "Undercover Boss," Bedford happened upon some employees with personal challenges, and, in the end, helped them out.
He couldn't reveal details of that or other things that happened during taping.
"I would be crucified," he said, laughing.
But he could reveal what lengths he went to not to be recognized by employees, who were told the company was being filmed for some other reason.
"The disguise was significant. I'm follicle-y challenged," Bedford said. "I wore a wig and some sort of very dorky-looking glasses and grew some facial hair."
All to be undercover and low key, which is exactly how he will watch the show Sunday night — at home with his family, including wife Maria and their eight children.