This boss went undercover

by Daniel McCabe, BA'89

When Superman wants to disguise himself as Clark Kent, he simply puts on a pair of glasses. Mood Media CEO Lorne Abony, BA’91, put a lot more effort into constructing an alter ego for his appearance on the Emmy-winning reality TV show Undercover Boss. Hair extensions, a new beard and some temporary tattoos all figured into the transformation of the normally clean-cut business executive. Abony put on glasses too (it does seem to work for that guy in the cape).

The 43-year-old entrepreneur was intrigued when CBS first approached him about taking part in the show. “As the company’s CEO, I can go to any job site anytime I want, but the people there will know that I’m the CEO and they’ll all act as if the CEO is around,” says Abony. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go undercover. Not only was I not their boss, I was often their subordinate. I learned a lot about my company in those 10 days.”

Thankfully, he was delighted by most of the things he found out. “One thing that really pleased me was the focus on customer service that I saw.” It’s no secret that companies flourish or flounder based on how well they deal with their customers, says Abony. “It's one thing to know as a boss that something's important. It's another to see your people actually putting it into practice."

Not all of his discoveries were happy ones. He was surprised to realize that his company faltered in one key area of employee relations. “I learned that we didn’t offer same-sex benefits.” As a result of his experience on the show, Abony began instituting benefits for same-sex couples in his company.

Abony interacted with Mood Media staff by posing as a failed nightclub owner hoping to rebuild his career by participating in a reality TV show dedicated to giving people second chances. The Mood Media employees knew they were being filmed for a television series - just not the one they were expecting. The show aired on CBS on January 4.

Abony suspects that CBS may have been interested in him, in part, because of his relative youth. “I’m one of the younger CEOs that they’ve had on the show. They were also excited about me being the first Canadian they’ve had.” The network also thought that Abony's company made for interesting subject matter.

Chances are you've never heard of Mood Media. Chances are, though, that you're well acquainted with their services. And you're certainly familiar with one of the companies they purchased in recent years - Muzak.

"We're the sort of company that people invariably experience in some way without even knowing it," says Abony. "whether it's at a Hilton hotel, at your local KFC, or even in your doctor's office." The company supplies its services to more than 800 retail chains in more than 40 countries throughout the world. Mood Media specializes in providing background music, visual displays and even selected scents. "Our clients know that if you don't sound good, if you don't look good and even if you don't smell good, you're not providing your customers with a good experience. Customers having a pleasant experience will stay in your store longer." Mood Media's extensive offerings - their music catalogue features new emerging artists as well as established major label hitmakers in practically every genre - means that they can offer customized services to a wide array of clients. "A burger franchise probably won't be playing the same songs as Gucci."