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Undercover Boss - CEO of Best Western UK, David Clarke

publication date: Jun 1, 2012
author/source: Charlie Duff


Undercover Boss - CEO of UK Best Western, David Clarke

Posted by Charlie Duff on Fri, 16/07/2010 - 11:55

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This series of Undercover Boss has got off to a good start with CEO David Clarke changing sheets, chopping veg and washing dishes in Best Western groups’ hotels.

Oooh I just love it when Undercover Boss is really ‘the boss’ going undercover, although I worry that there are seemingly so many companies who don’t know what their boss looks like!

However Best Western (or BW as I’m going to call them from now on) isn’t a conventional business. Instead of being a hotel chain as such it is more of a brand marketing franchise. The hotels which join it benefit from the marketing of the brand and BW makes sure they are up to their standards and worthy of the name they have invested millions in. So knowing the CEO is probably fairly unlikely for the average employee of a hotel which is affliated with the brand.

The recession has hit the mid-priced hotel market badly as people treat themselves with luxury hotels or go budget for value, and business travel isn’t as lucrative as it has been. So BW has launched the first ever TV campaign they have done under the slogan ‘Hotels with personality’. But the board are keen to know whether their megabucks idea has ‘cascaded down’ from the board to the franchise employees at the bottom. My hopes are not high for this prospect.

CEO David, incidentally, comes across as a right sweetie. "I expect a lot of others because I give a lot myself," he says at the beginning, before revealing he’s worked in the hotel trade for 40 of his 60 years. I seriously love him later on when he observes that he spends so much time thinking about the business, when ultimately it’s about people. When he visits a flourishing hotel which has survived through tough love and golf alone, he muses that it’s all very well spending thousands on the golf course but a bit of incentive or a pay rise to the employees wouldn’t have gone amiss. And he’s right. He meets some amazing people.

He visits a hotel which recently failed an inspection. In the kitchen he meets Wayne who is working 80 hours a week with a skeleton staff in a restaurant which is well, quite good, actually. Locals come in for a slap-up meal because the food is good and there’s only fast food available elsewhere. Personally, I’m impressed he’s making the soup from scratch – I think I assumed most hotels, especially the stretched ones, would just open a tin or reach for a packet mix as necessary.

Moving on, he helps with ‘maintenance’. Maintenance is gearing up for the next inspection – by this we mean moving rubbish things out and putting half-decent stuff into rooms, switiching the door numbers and generally cheating BW so when they come back they think there have been improvements when there haven’t been really. David is ashamed. Michael the maintenance guy is adept at cutting corners and the owners of the hotel are nowhere to be seen. We discover the main owner died last year and the rest of the family aren’t so hot on hotel management. The general manager has been left to do everything and the place looks like it’s falling to pieces.

Nest David goes to a flourishing hotel and gets a lesson in good people management from Leona. He’s waiting tables with her and despite his flapping over toast, she tells him he’s a natural and inspires him with confidence. Then she says: “We're like a family here. They're so good to you here. You get your overnight stay, you get a leisure club membership...” The message is: look after your staff and your staff will look after your customers and your customers will come back. Simples really.

But Leona has no idea what Best Western really is or means and hasn’t even heard of the television campaign. Oops. But you gotta admit, it's a long chain o' command from the CEO of BW to serving breakfast in a hotel in Kendal.

At the other hotel, where Golf is King, Steve is raking sand, trimming verges and moving grass like a beast despite having only just recovered from cancer of the vocal chords, the treatment for which he attempted to work through. The golf course has grown and helped the hotel make money but there’s no more staff and no pay rise. I can feel the nation rising up to demand a pay rise for this dedicated groundsman. David finds his mind ‘switching to the people more’. He’s really on the shop floor now.

David then joins Bev, the housekeeper, in the bedrooms. She’s cleaning like a demon. A filthy room needs to be spick and span in 15 minutes. Bev is meticulous and polishes up the taps David neglects, and explains how the girls work over their hours to make sure the guests are happy. Over coffee, her team chat with David and reveal Bev’s son has health problems.

It turns out he spent 16 years at Great Ormond Street, which saved his life. Bev’s pretty much on minimum wage but still gives to the children’s charity to say thank you.

David’s touched, but it’s time to return to the board room. And he is tough!

He explains they are in denial. He tells them there is an 'Astonishing lack of awareness. We don't exist. We're not on their radar. No-one knew about the advertising campaign!'

They have been patting themselves on the back. And they are not entitled to as although there are some great teams and people there is a long way to go...

The reveal isn't my favourite bit of the show, but it's emotional for some as he tells housekeeper Bev BW is giving £2,500 to Great Ormond Street and gives groundsman Steve his first family holiday in ten years at the plush Celtic Manor resort. He makes sure the board are aware of the failing hotel but we are sadly deprived the reveal with Maintenance Michael (who couldn't make it - shame, but not really a surprise).

Good news all round as we get the updates - Maintenance Mike is still at the hotel but it passed the test - hooray!

So what did we learn then kids?

It's a long way down from the top isn't it? Communication is a problem and the board probably have no idea. And I get the impression it's not just Best Western.

And yes, David, it's all about people...

What did you think? Was it depressing, inspiring or both?

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