But as with all "Undercover Boss" episodes, there are plenty of feel-good happy endings. Joyce revealed himself to the unknowing employees who helped train him and gave them the opportunities they were thirsting for (as well as some bonuses, both monetary and professional.)
Joyce also came down on the owner of disappointing Econolodge in Orlando which had a leaky roof and other serious maintenance problems. And he asked to fix the pay-for coffee policy at Suburban Extended Brands.
So now that Choice Hotels has been put in the national spotlight, there will probably be more scrutiny on their brands to see if the changes that were promised have really been made. But in the meantime, we were able to do a Q&A with Steve Joyce via email last week before the episode aired. Here are some of his inside observations on the "Undercover" experience.
HotelChatter: Why did you decide to go on "Undercover Boss?" and what did you hope to accomplish by doing this?
Steve Joyce, Choice Hotels CEO: We decided the show would be a great opportunity because, while Choice’s brands are doing extraordinarily well, Choice Hotels as a company might not be as well known to the consumer.
Since I became CEO 2 years ago – unlike my previous company, where I came up from the ranks and did many of the frontline jobs, I haven’t had that opportunity at Choice. So, I wanted to get to know the line level folks better. I wanted a better understanding of Choice and the folks who do the work every day.
HC: How elaborate was your disguise, or did you even need one?
SJ: I’ve had a mustache since I was 12 years old. I had only shaved it once it high school for pictures at my mother’s request and I grew it back immediately. So, they made me shave my mustache, it was quite an emotional moment, and then they gelled and dyed my hair.
HC: What were you most surprised to learn?
SJ: While I expected to work hard, I was unprepared for how truly difficult those jobs are – and how hard those people work every day. I don’t think of myself as an ivory-tower type of guy, but I hadn’t worked on the front lines for 30 years. I was also unprepared for the emotional impact that meeting some of these people had on my life.
HC: What upset you? And what made you happy to see?
SJ: I was overwhelmed by the quality and caliber of the front line staff at our hotels, and more than anything, reminded about one of the truly great things about the hospitality industry – the career paths that can start as a front line employee and take you all the way to the top. This is one of those unique pieces of the industry.
One of the things that I learned that I can take back to corporate with me to make positive changes is that there were policies that we, Choice Hotels, had put in place that we found if we would’ve asked the hotel operators about, we would have understood they didn’t make much sense.
HC: What was a difficult task that you had to do--housekeeping, front desk, etc?
SJ: I worked as a housekeeper, maintenance man, night clerk and director of sales. All of these jobs were extremely difficult. I was not prepared at how difficult these jobs would be, having been off of the front lines for 30 years. In fact, the housekeeper I worked with was one of the most amazing people I have ever met, not only personally but the way she motivates her team and the quality of work she does. She cleans a room in 27 minutes. I couldn’t even get within double of that and I was sweating the whole time.
HC: What do you differently now as a result of what you saw and learned from "Undercover Boss?"
SJ: You’re just going to have to wait and see on Sunday, but I can say we made immediate, impactful changes at the company based on what I saw and learned during my experience undercover.
HC: Having done this, would you recommend this sort of "in the trenches" approach to other hotel company CEOs?
SJ: Absolutely! It’s truly been an invaluable experience.
Thanks, Steve! We hope other hotel CEOs are paying just as close attention to their hard-working employees as you are! (If they haven't been, we bet they are now.) For those of you who missed it you can learn more about the episode over at www.choicehotels.com/undercoverboss.
[All photos: Sonja Flemming/CBS ©2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.]