Kriston Dean’s most recent assignment turned out to be sweet – even if it wasn’t all candy-coated.
As director of merchandising and marketing for Purdy’s Chocolate,s her daily responsibilities include product development, branding, imaging and marketing all 61 of the company’s stores across Canada – including the Semiahmoo Shopping Centre location.
But – disguised with a new identity as a trainee worker and a Purdy’s apron – she got a very different view of decisions made at the executive level when she became the subject of an episode of the reality show, Undercover Boss Canada.
The results of her odyssey will air this tonight (Thursday) at 9 p.m. on the W Network (repeated Friday at 10 a.m. and 8 p.m., Sunday at noon, 7 and 11 p.m. and Monday at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.).
According to the Semiahmoo Secondary grad (class of ’94), the experience provided not only an opportunity to connect with employees but a chance to reflect on her own life.
“I was expecting the business-learning part of it, and the opportunity to work on the front lines – but I wasn’t expecting the personal journey,” she said.
Dean – who now lives in Langley with husband Kelly and their children, Abby, 10, and Memphis, 8, said she had to reach back to her days as a drama student at Semi to tackle the new persona – Devon – created for her by the producers.
“She was a rock chick who’d spent the last five years with her band and was looking to return to the work force as a trainee,” said Dean of her alter ego.
“Devon is actually my middle name – they chose that so I wouldn’t be too surprised if somebody called me by it.”
But the rest of the identity – including the dark wig with bangs, the decorated glasses and two fake tattoos – differed “quite a lot” from the real Dean, who was naturally graduating toward a career in marketing even while she was at Semi.
“I love music and I’ve done singing in the past, but I’m definitely a little bit older than she was supposed to be,” she said, with a chuckle.
Her children thought the disguise was fun.
“They’re on the show – they got to do a little background segment on me and they got to see me in disguise first of all.”
Dean was placed in three locations during the shoot, at Purdy’s stores in Toronto and Edmonton, and at the Vancouver factory kitchens.
Staying in character during the work days, while eating dinner at night – even flying to her work placements – was “an interesting experience,” Dean said, especially because everything was on camera most of the time.
“I think because I was really nervous going into every situation with employees, it made the disguise a little bit easier. I had to speak in a way that wasn’t corporate – I was soon answering as Devon.”
Working in the factory kitchens was also a little nerve-wracking, she noted. Because she had to wear a hair net, there was always the fear her wig would become dislodged.
Doing the actual work in the kitchen was the least troubling aspect, she said, “until one of the ladies said ‘the chocolates you are going to make are going to a customer’ and I thought ‘I can’t do that!’ – that’s when panic set in.”
Dean said she was also surprised at how much of their personal lives employees were willing to share with a co-worker.
“I was a complete stranger to them and, within a day, they were telling me very personal stories. I felt very honoured they would share that with me – it was sometimes very emotional.
“What I took away from that is that everybody has a story, everybody has something going on in their lives,” she said. “You find yourself reflecting on your own life.”
Of course, part of the point of the Undercover Boss series is for executives to hear what employees say about the business when the boss is not around.
“No matter how much you visit the frontlines as a leader, there are things that are not said, and not shown,” Dean said. “I really did hear things I would not otherwise have heard.”
Inevitably, she said, there were a few blushes when her identity was finally revealed in each situation – and employees clearly running over in their minds just what they’d said when they thought she was Devon.
There was really nothing for them to worry about – and Dean said she definitely did gain insights on how the company could serve customers better.
Dean said she also gained a whole new appreciation of the high level of dedication and pride that Purdy’s workers bring to their jobs.
“That goes far beyond anything you can teach and train,” she said.
At the end of the shoot, she was glad to say goodbye to ‘Devon.’
“I think she’s been laid to rest,” she said. “Although I did keep her leather jacket.”
Dean views her Undercover Boss experience as a very valuable exercise,
“The whole idea of the show is to celebrate employees in the Canadian workforce and find out the things we can do better, and I would highly recommend it to other businesses,” she said.