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Dina-Dwyer Owens: After Going Undercover

When this CEO of a $750 million in annual sales company went on assignment for a recent episode of CBS’s hit reality show “Undercover Boss,” she got down and dirty.
Dina Dwyer-Owens, CFE, the chairman and CEO of the seven-brand service company The Dwyer Group, learned that the three steps to success she had relied on at the start of her leadership of the company would be useful: Faith, team and systems. Disguised as “Faith Brown,” Dwyer-Owens spent time with three service professionals and one franchisee from four franchise brands within her company: Mr. Appliance, Mr. Electric and Mr. Rooter and The Grounds Guys. Trading in the front office, Dwyer-Owens instead rode a lawnmower, unloaded a water heater, installed a commercial exit sign and repaired a stove alongside the technicians, in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees.
If CEOs are sometimes considered as operating at the 30,00-foot level and being out of touch with the organization, which isn’t Dwyer-Owens’ style, undercover duty presented the opportunity to get the “worm’s-eye view,” she said. “I was literally down there in the dirt and got a whole new view of what goes on out there.”
Dwyer-Owens envisioned “going out on the van with some of the franchisee service professionals” and had done so earlier in her career in Waco, Texas, the company’s headquarters. The undercover assignment gave her a prime opportunity to do even more. Her goals were to better understand the work the service professionals provided and to gather ideas from them to provide better service to their end-user customers.
While experiencing the dirty side of the business, Dwyer-Owens’ appreciation of her associates, franchisees and team members only grew.
“It gave me a whole new level of respect and appreciation, not only for our franchisees, because they’re got to work hard to find the right people to represent our brands on the front line, but also for those front line team members,” said Dwyer-Owens. “The work that they do is very challenging.” She described the work as labor intensive, physically challenging and often calling for service professionals to work in extreme temperatures.
“I thought what a wonderful time for me to really get an idea of if we’re truly living up to two things: First, is our company’s Code of Values really penetrating the front lines?” asked Dwyer-Owens. “We work hard to train our franchisees to live by the values,” and she added that the second priority was to provide world-class service to their customers. The Dwyer Group Code of Values deals with themes of respect, integrity, customer focus and having fun in the process.
She was most surprised and pleased to work with a female service professional from Mr. Appliance. “I did not expect to be with a female service professional at Mr. Appliance even though one of my dreams is to have more women involved in our trades,” said Dwyer-Owens.
At the end of the program on revealing her identity to the four participants in the show, she invites the technician to help her develop a program to attract more women to the service trades.

Taking a Risk
Most executives understand that every media opportunity comes with challenges, “And when you think about the brand recognition, that’s a wonderful opportunity to get that kind of exposure, but it’s a big risk,” said Dwyer-Owens. “You’re making yourself vulnerable and it is reality TV.”
For example, the TV program’s team made the selections of who she would work alongside. The service brands executive didn’t know where she was going or who she was meeting with from one day to the next. “Literally, it was as much of a surprise to me as the folks that I was meeting with on the front lines,” she said.
Pre-Screening Kudos
Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business sponsored a pre-screening of the “Undercover Boss” program where 1,200 people attended that included students and faculty, The Dwyer Group associates, local franchisees, family members, suppliers and local chamber representatives. Dwyer-Owens described it as a positively charged environment in which many people “had really nice things to say. I think it made Waco proud, and it made The Dwyer Group proud and it made Baylor University proud; I hope it makes the IFA proud.”

An Industry Agent
Dwyer-Owens concluded her term with the International Franchise Association’s Board of Directors last month and served as IFA chairwoman in 2009. She spearheaded the reintroduction of the IFA’s VetFran program in 2001. In 2002, IFA awarded her the Bonny LeVine Award, the association’s highest award for women who mentor other women and advance the careers of women in franchising. 
Laura Fenwick is manager of publishing for the International Franchise Association. She can be reached at 202-662-0761 or lfenwick@franchise.org.

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