Revealing Cincy’s Secrets

    by -

    The difference between "white collar" and "blue collar" can be much more than just a color, and the CBS show "Undercover Boss" helps uncover those differences by having a top executive step down in the trenches with the lower ranks of the company. As the show’s name suggests, the executive goes undercover to make for an authentic experience.


    Cincinnati’s Mayor Mark Mallory just went on the show, but he wasn’t the first Tri-Stater to be on the show. Last year Rick Arquilla, president and chief operating officer of Cincinnati-based Roto-Rooter, stepped out of his corner office to go undercover.


    Becoming Hank Denman


    Before Arquilla made his national television debut, Roto-Rooter’s public relations firm, The Eisen Agency, contacted him to see if he’d be up for the "Undercover Boss" challenge. After he agreed, the MitchellsInstoryGIF.gifshow’s producers came to Cincinnati to see if Arquilla and the company would be a good match for the show.


    "A couple weeks later they called and said, ‘If you’re game, we’re game. We’d love to have Roto-Rooter,’ " Arquilla says. "And we started filming about 30 days later."


    To make the magic happen, Arquilla assumed a secret identity of Hank Denman for his time on the show. One of the major changes Arquilla made to turn into Denman was that he didn’t cut his hair. "I was looking a little scruffy and in dire need of a haircut," Arquilla says.


    Experiencing the Other Side


    Once his hair had grown out and the cameras started rolling, Arquilla had gone from sitting behind his desk to working on the frontlines of the plumbing and drain service industry. "Every job function that I did on the show, I had certainly observed it many, many times, but you really don’t understand what that job’s all about until you do that job," he says.


    Despite the hard work, Arquilla put himself fully into the experience, and he went through his fair share of plumbing problems and lugging around 200-pound machines. But the hardest time for him to stay in character and not give up on the show entirely came when he was answering calls. Elizabeth-InStory.gif


    While he was dispatching, a call came in around 11 p.m. for an emergency plumbing disaster. Arquilla’s job was to contact the on-call service technician, who wasn’t responding. The next course of action was to connect with the technician’s immediate supervisor, but he wasn’t answering either.


    "As you can imagine, I’m getting a little hot under the collar and had to work very hard to not break cover because, to me, this was violating everything that we’re all about," he says. "We pride ourselves on fast service, getting there in two hours or less, and the customer’s asking me a lot of tough questions: ‘When are you going to show up?’ "


    Learning First-Hand


    While Arquilla stuck to his guns and didn’t give up on his Denman identity, he learned a thing or two from his experience on the show. "I was so busy doing my ‘Undercover Boss’ job that I didn’t realize there was also a journey that I was going down where I was learning a lot about myself, revealing a lot about myself," he says.


    One of the top lessons he learned was that it’s "OK to eat your own cooking once in a while… Do what you’ve asked others to do and see if it works or not," he says. He realized that he and other executives actually need to experience the company standards rather than just make them up.


    Another couple of realizations he had through his time on the frontlines include the wealth of talent among the company employees and the desire of those employees to have advancement opportunities. "Being Hank Denman and I’m a new employee, everyone that I worked with expressed a desire to climb the corporate ladder. They wanted to move ahead in the organization, and that kind of blew me away because I don’t hear that as much when I’m wearing the president’s hat," he says. 1209KROMBHOLZ.gif


    Acting on the Results


    Now that Arquilla has had some time to reflect on his experience and use his insights to make for a better company, he has started a program to allow senior managers to do mini, un-official "Undercover Boss" assignments. This experience allows them to see first-hand what Arquilla saw through his own experience. 


    Roto-Rooter also now has the Frontline Leadership Program. After he saw the amount of talent at the bottom, Arquilla started this program to train some of the better employees to be managers.


    Managers around the country nominated workers, and Arquilla selected the final Frontline Leadership Program participants after reviews and interviews. Once a part of the program, workers attend management 101 training, take part in role playing and learn from the personal experiences of upper management.


    For more information about Arquilla and his "Undercover Boss" experience, check out




    Photographer: Neysa Ruhl

    Model: Cher Shaeper and Linda Palacios

    Location: M/I Homes Estates at Shayler Ridge Model Home