Mack Trucks Inc. employees talk about `Undercover Boss' experience

Tracy Sweatt and Michael J. Davies say they've gotten a taste of star treatment

March 26, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Michael Davies and Tracy Sweatt were featured on an episode of the TV series, "Undercover Boss."
By Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer

It's a bit like boot camp for bosses.

A chief executive officer leaves the lap of luxury, takes on a secret identity and attempts to do the job of his employees.

And, usually, doesn't do it very well.

It's a working-class fantasy that is turned into reality each week on the hit CBS television show, "Undercover Boss."

The executives are humbled and the employees selected to train them become labor force heroes — maybe even celebrities.

Mack Trucks Inc. employees Tracy Sweatt and Michael J. Davies might not put themselves in that category, but since appearing on the show, both said they've gotten a taste of star treatment.

Sweatt said people ask for her autograph and want to have their photo taken with her.

A fan of Facebook, Davies said he received more than 400 new friends the night the show aired.

The two local residents were among a handful of employees chosen to train Denny Slagle, the president and CEO of Mack Trucks Inc., during a recent episode of "Undercover Boss."

Sweatt works at the Volvo Powertrain North America plant off Pennsylvania Avenue in Hagerstown, while Davies commutes to Mack's warehouse near Baltimore.

It was a surreal experience, both people admitted. And one that has changed their lives.

Sweatt said tour groups coming through the Hagerstown plant want to see the woman who was on "Undercover Boss."

"People come in looking for me," she said. "Seriously, never in my life did I think anything like this would happen."

When Davies and Sweatt talked with network representatives, both said they had no inkling they would be part of an "Undercover Boss" episode.

Instead, they were told a film crew would be doing a documentary on Mack Trucks and two people — a man and a woman — would be competing for a job.

Out of many Mack Trucks employees interviewed, Davies thinks he was selected because he doesn't watch much television.

"I had never watched "Undercover Boss," the Hagerstown man said. "I watch sports and movies, but not much else. I knew what the show was about, from commercials and such, but I hadn't watched it."

Sweatt said she had watched the very first episode and enjoyed it.

"I thought it was a good idea for executives to see how the bottom level works," she said. "But I never ever thought that one day I'd be a part of it."

Slagle, whose undercover name was Roger Donovan, played an unemployed subcontractor and wore a disguise of glasses, a mustache and stubbled beard.

Davies said he wouldn't have recognized the Mack CEO, even without the masquerade.

"I've seen photos of him. But I don't think I would have put it together," he said.

What he did recognize was that "Roger" wasn't very good at the job.

"The woman he was competing against was much better," Davies said. "I kept saying, 'The girl's getting the job.' But I felt sorry for him. He said he was laid off, had two children. I wanted to help him out. But I just couldn't."

"He was a nice guy," Sweatt said. "I liked him. I told him, 'If you do what I do, you'll do OK. Don't overthink it.' But he had a lot of trouble. I kept saying, 'Roger, you've got to calm down. You're trying so hard you're messing up.'"

Following the filming, Davies and Sweatt traveled to Greensboro, N.C., where they thought they would be casting their votes for the person most deserving of the job. The female trainee, they later learned, was part of the film crew.

Instead of going to Mack Trucks headquarters, they were taken to an office on Volvo property, Davies said.

"When Denny Slagle walked in, I was in shock and awe," he said. "I didn't know what to say. I told myself, 'Wow, this really just happened.' It really did catch me off guard."

"I couldn't believe it," Sweatt said. "When he came in, I thought he looked taller than when I worked with him."

After meeting with Slagle, Davies and Sweatt said they were taken across the hall to meet with a psychiatrist.

"The psychiatrist said people experience a lot of different things after this," Sweatt said. "He told me, 'People are going to treat you differently. Will you be able to handle it?'"

After returning home, one of the hardest things, both people said, was keeping their appearance on the show a secret.

"The show was filmed in October and didn't air until February," Davies said. "We had to stay quiet and couldn't even tell our families."

They also weren't sure they would be included in the show until the last minute.

"The network filmed about seven people and we were told not everyone would make the show," Sweatt said. "We found out about a week before."

When the show aired, Davies said he watched it with his stepmother.

"She cried the whole show," he said. "It was a happy cry. My dad passed away several years ago, and he worked at Mack. So, she knew he would be proud of me. He loved Mack."

Sweatt said she didn't watch the show until after it had aired. And she's only watched it once.

Her family, however, has watched it over and over.

"When it first came on, my sister watched it three or four times in one day," she said. "I think they're all pretty proud of me."

Davies said CBS gave the featured employees a director's cut of the show — which is a bit longer — and he's planning to make copies to give to family and friends.

And while he's received a lot of positive feedback, he's not sure he would do it again.

Sweatt, on the other hand, said she would "do it tomorrow."

"I really enjoyed it. And I wouldn't change a thing," she said.

She only wishes she would have had her three children with her when she met Slagle.

"I would have liked for them to have been there with me, standing behind me," she said. "That's my only regret."

As a reward for being on the show, Davies said Slagle handed over a $5,000 check for the local Little League program, which he said already has been disbursed.

"Having once coached at Halfway Little League, I was very proud to hand over that money. I know it means a great deal to all of the teams," he said.

He also received an all-expense-paid weekend to a Pittsburgh Pirates game. A native of the Pittsburgh area, Davies said he is a big Pirates and Steelers fan.

He is planning to attend a Pirates-Orioles game on his birthday in June.

Sweatt received an innovation award for a machine cover she created, as well as a week's vacation with her family to Myrtle Beach, S.C., which she plans to enjoy in June.

Davies and Sweatt said they hope comments they made to Slagle about their work environment will be taken to heart and influence positive changes at Mack plants.

Davies has worked at Mack Trucks for almost 35 years. Sweatt said she has been with Mack since 1997 and in Hagerstown since 2004.

"I would love to be back home in South Carolina," Sweatt said. "But I'm blessed to have this job. I really enjoy my work. I'm very blessed."

Despite Slagle's poor showing as a laborer, Davies believes he is the right man to be heading the company.

"I think he's a great CEO. He's a winner," he said. "Mack will be No. 1 again, and Denny Slagle will take us there."

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