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Undercover (Big Banking) Boss

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The first episode of the new reality-television series “Undercover Boss” aired on CBS just after the New Orleans Saints whooped the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.  If you stayed with CBS after the 45 commercials following the game, you saw Waste Management President and COO Larry O’Donnell go incognito within the largest trash removal company in the country. Impersonating the lowest of the low employee at Waste Management, Larry was seen sifting through garbage for recyclables, cleaning human waste from portable latrines with a huge hose, stabbing plastic bags in the wind and riding shotgun in a garbage truck—all in the hopes of getting to know his company a little better.

Despite its condescending nature, the premiere was riveting, and I take my hat off to whoever edited the footage of Larry impersonating the dark-blue-collar workers—it was a stroke of masterful emotional manipulation.

The show tested well and already has resulted in the development of a host of other similar series. Below is the treatment for the premiere of one such series that came across my desk yesterday. Although I’m not at liberty to divulge which station and production companies are attached to the show, I think it’s safe to say that we have another winner on our hands.

Episode #1: Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs CEO

First we interview Lloyd for a first-year analyst position and watch him perspire then sweat. We pepper him with all the typical questions such as: How many pieces of pizza are eaten each three minutes on the island of Manhattan? What’s the angle between the minute and second hand when a clock reads 3:23 p.m.? Name three of your biggest failures and how it felt to be a failure and who you told about your failures and what you did after you failed to make yourself not feel like such a failure? Finally, we ask the impossible: Why investment banking?

lloyd blankfeinSecond, we send Lloyd undercover on the job as an analyst in Goldman’s office in Auckland, New Zealand, where we’re sure no one recognizes him (or cares to read about him everyday in the American newspapers). Here, Lloyd learns just how hard Goldman works its dogs, a.k.a. its analysts. In addition to having to pull all-nighter after all-nighter, running 37 different scenarios every 45 minutes in several Excel models for a proposed corporate finance deal involving a solar panel manufacturer on the South Island, a terrified Lloyd will be seen bungee jumping, sky-diving, rock climbing and telemarking with his mates. And that’s all before they hit the office for work each day.

Third, Lloyd will be flown to London where he’ll work as a VP and have to live on a £500,000 a year salary. We’ll watch as Lloyd is forced to eat curries twice a week and search for cheap pints during the four and a half hours of free time he has each week.

Finally, in “the payoff” scene (a.k.a. “the money shot”), we’ll see Lloyd write an email that he’ll send off to a group he’s entitled “the whole shebang,” meaning the entire worldwide staff of Goldman Sachs. The message will explain that he learned so much as an undercover Goldman employee that he wasn’t aware of and that he will start 16 task forces to get to figure out how Goldman can make more money, sidestepping “that pesky Uncle (Sam) of ours”; that he was generally moved; that he now understands all of the “menial daily trials and tribulations” of his underlings; and that as a result, “I will only be taking home a $9 million bonus.” Lloyd will hit send and we get a close-up of Lloyd shedding a golden tear.

–Posted by Derek Loosvelt, Vault Global Finance Editor

If you can’t wait for the above series to premiere, check out Derek’s commentary on episode #2 of “Undercover Boss” on Vault’s finance blog, In The Black.

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Written by Phil Stott

February 16, 2010 at 2:44 pm

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