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Undercover at Crown

Jan 09, 2012
Narin Ganesh talks to Bob Bluffield and reflects on what he learned by working at the sharp end of the business - undercover.

During 2010 Crown Worldwide Group was featured in the popular television programme 'Undercover Boss'.

This was screened in the UK and in several countries across Europe, Asia and in Australasia and created enormous customer awareness and interest in the Crown brand that led to a positive impact throughout the world. Now that the dust has settled it is an appropriate time for Narin Ganesh, who featured in the programme, to reflect upon what he and the company gained from the experience.

When Narin Ganesh joined Crown Worldwide Group as Finance Director of the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia during 2009 he never suspected his acting prowess would be called upon within months of being appointed. As the new boy on the block, still relatively unknown to the majority of employees, he was ideally suited to be deployed in the popular Channel 4 primetime television series, 'Undercover Boss'.  Narin's involvement was determined by Studio Lambert, the programme producers.

On a chilly February morning in 2010, 46-year-old Narin rose early at his Dorset home with some trepidation to begin his mission. He was filmed preparing as he stepped into his alter ego of Paul Ramdhanie, a recently redundant office worker who was looking for re-employment as an entry level worker. By adopting uncustomary spectacles, sporting designer stubble and Crown workware in place of his usual suit, Narin was ready to shadow Crown Relocations’ employees in various UK branches to learn their functions and to report his findings back to his Regional Managing Director, Barry Koolen. The assignment served two purposes. While it provided entertaining TV viewing, Crown believed it would offer an unprecedented opportunity to gain a valuable insight into the daily activities of the company and to pick up on any issues that might be concerning frontline staff. "I was feeling slightly apprehensive," Narin explained, "it was a surreal experience and the process was very different to what I had expected. Being natural in front of the camera was hard and I felt incredibly self conscious.”

During the first day Narin was eased into the process with some unscripted scenes filming him driving and parking his car, participating in a board meeting at Crown's Ruislip headquarters and the next day while eating lunch alone in a Birmingham pizzeria. By the third day Narin moved undercover for real, with a 5.15am start to meet Paul Roundtree, who works at the company's West Midlands base. After being introduced to Chris Grimshaw, Team Leader of one of Crown's specialist packing teams and his crew, they drove 75 miles to Montgomery to pack the contents of a three-bedroom house for a couple who were relocating to Australia. The team worked flat out, packing more than three-tons of items and loaded them into a shipping container all within a nine hour time slot. "During the drive I had a very engaging conversation with crew leader Chris and learnt of his long-term aspirations to rise through the ranks and into management. I was able to judge that he had suitable potential to succeed within Crown but this sequence was lost due to camera failure.” Working with the team soon gave Narin a clear understanding of the pressures packing teams face in meeting the demanding export standards. "I was really impressed. The team were extremely upbeat and worked well together. However, I became aware that efficiency measures introduced by the company meant crews were working a 65-hour week and the time to do each job had been cut from three days to two. The unsocial hours meant they were unable to plan their evenings. Chris Grimshaw, a leading packer with Crown for 12-years, expressed his concerns that quality could be compromised by cut-backs that required fewer people to do the job in less time. This was beyond me. I found the work extremely tough and after 11 hours of packing there were still 75 miles to drive.” 

Narin's next assignment was with the two-person Crown Record Management office in Nottingham where George Burbank, the site Supervisor, a 24-year veteran of the company, had far ranging day-to-day responsibilities. Narin was introduced to the workings of the order processing system before accompanying his mentor to deliver documents to clients in Nottingham and Derby. "George has a particularly good rapport with customers and his passion for the job is heart warming. In his own words he told me that: 'The most important thing in the world is customers; they pay good money and have to be looked after' which left me feeling extremely proud that we have unsung heroes like him working for the company.”

While en-route to Crown's dedicated Internet sales centre at Leeds on day five, Narin received some daunting news when he was told that the Birmingham packing crew had been so taken with his performance that they reported to their manager that they were convinced he must be a 'plant'. He was further concerned that someone at Leeds might recognise him, but his visit goes without a hitch. Narin was given a clear insight into Crown's telephone enquiry handling system by Deborah Matthews, the National Internet Leads Sales Manager. Deborah is a live wire, and it soon became apparent how she had quadrupled sales over the last two years. As every call that is converted to a sale can bring in a substantial amount of business, Narin soon appreciated why the function of the sales centre cannot be underestimated. After some role play devised to demonstrate how to deal with difficult questions, Narin was put to work taking live calls from potential new customers while Deborah listened using a headset. Though appearing nervous on camera and confessing to finding working the phone stressful, Narin handled the situation well. "I found the experience rewarding and felt confident that I had handled incoming calls quite well after being encouraged by Deborah. I was inspired by her genuine enthusiasm and by her clear aspirations as a talented and ambitious staff member to become a branch manager.”

Narin's greatest challenge arose when he returned to the London area where he felt certain his cover would be blown. His task was to join Darren Farrell and his three-man team who were packing for another family who were moving to Australia. He was surprised to be told that, on a temporary basis, London staff were working long hours without being paid overtime. "They were doing a very good job but I felt that they were not getting the recognition they deserved. It became clear that there had been a lack of communication and staff had not always been kept informed about changes that had taken place at senior management level. This was naturally causing discontent, leaving the staff to feel isolated. This was a particular area that I vowed to rectify.”

The final day of filming was fairly intense and Narin had mixed feelings. "I had enjoyed working with the film crew and I had been well received by all of the Crown employees who had taken me under their wing, but at the same time I was looking forward to returning to my normal life.”  The final period was spent at Global Archiving in Manchester, a facility that holds more than half a million boxes of client documents.

With filming completed it was time for Narin to report to the Board and to reflect on the experience. "It is important for employees not to feel they are simply regarded as numbers. They are real people, with real lives and some of those I worked with opened up to me and spoke of their personal struggles, yet they never let this stand in the way of their professionalism. I felt a need to reward and value staff more when individually so many give so much to the company. Clearly there had been a perceived lack of communication amongst certain divisions that left staff feeling they weren't being listened to, especially those on the road. Communications have since been reviewed and expanded and now everybody gets to hear what is going on at briefing meetings. There were also a few Health and Safety training issues that were given priority and overtime payments for the London packers have been reinstated.”

As is customary, at the conclusion of the programme, Narin called the staff he had shadowed to London to reveal his true identity. This was a particularly poignant part of the process. "I felt privileged and grateful to be able to do something positive for the people that I met along the way to recognise their commitment to the company.” As a result Deborah Matthews was promoted to Branch Manager - Midlands and now heads up Crown's Birmingham office with responsibility for driving new business to the branch; Darren Farrell's packing talents were recognised and he has moved to Crown's Fine Arts Division as a Fine Art Technician; and, in recognition of Chris Grimshaw's outstanding potential, he was given management training and is now Operations Trainer for the Northern Region. Since the programme, George Burbank has retired.

 "I was extremely impressed with the loyalty and professionalism of the workforce that I encountered. Crown Worldwide Group prides itself on its exemplary customer service and all the staff that I met showed a remarkable commitment. Going undercover was a very positive experience that has given Crown the impetus to implement a number of ideas taken from the people that I met. I feel it is easy in any large organisation to become detached from what takes place day-to-day on the front line. I firmly believe bosses must take the time to listen to their staff and experience what they do within the company. The programme gave me a valuable insight that has shaped my views on how management should never take decisions without considering the wider consequences.”

The programme was filmed over a period of ten days during late February and March 2010. Albeit the scene sequences were changed when the programme was edited to 48-minutes, it was screened on 19 August, 2010.

About Crown

The Crown Worldwide Group was established as a private company in 1965 and has 250 locations in 55 countries, a £400 m turnover and provides relocation and other services to corporations, private clients and diplomats. The company works with over 2,000 organisations and performs over 100,000 international relocations every year.

Crown Records Management offers a comprehensive range of services, from information management and consultancy through to online tracking and monitoring and on- or off-site records management.

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