O.C. CEO goes undercover on TV show
The young employee at the retail store holds up a Metal Mulisha shirt, and tells the new guy just hired: "You don't want to look like a 5-year-old, like your mom picked this out."
That new employee – the one wearing wire-rim glasses, a thick mustache, combed-over hair and a collared shirt - just happened to be a disguised La Jolla Group CEO Toby Bost, the head honcho who helped bring the Metal Mulisha brand to life.
Bost got an inside look at how his retail stores and operations run after going undercover on the CBS reality show "Undercover Boss," which airs tonight. La Jolla Group is the umbrella company that licenses apparel for brands such as O'Neill, Rusty and Metal Mulisha.
"It was really fun. I think it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get in disguise and get behind the scenes to see how things operate," Bost said. "I really embraced the opportunity."
When Bost reveals his identity at the end of the show, the unsuspecting employee who made the off-cuff remark about Metal Mulisha looks shocked.
"Am I fired?" he asks in a teaser to the episode.
The Irvine operation of the La Jolla Group is featured in the segment, and viewers get a glimpse of the inner-workings of an action-sports company, where Bost cruises around on his skateboard and employees can hit the gym during the workday. Some bring their dogs to work.
"Getting people stoked in the workplace is a high priority for me, and we wanted to add some fun to it," Bost said in the segment. "I would describe myself as a hands-off manager. There aren't a ton of rules, but the one we live by is we wear what we make."
On any given day at the La Jolla Group, there might be a photo shoot with models rocking the latest bikinis, top pro surfers checking out new goods or employees playing basketball on the indoor courts.
Bost has been CEO for about seven years. He started his career in a warehouse, working his way up at other surf brands such as Costa Mesa-based Rip Curl, then was brought on to head the La Jolla Group.
"I think they could have easily picked a Fortune 500 guy," said Bost, 42. "I have a lot to learn."
The flagship of La Jolla Group, O'Neill, is the focus of Friday's episode of "Undercover Boss," where unsuspecting employees each week are surprised by supervisors who work side-by-side with them to see how their operations are conducted.
In one clip, an employee asks the disguised Bost to put on a backpack to try and sell it.
When a customer asks whether the store sells wallets, Bost seems clueless.
"That's a good question," he says, looking around the shop aimlessly.
Bost's trainer says on camera that "he seems really shy," and tries to give Bost tips on selling techniques such as greeting customers when they come in, or asking if they need a certain size for a shirt.
In the segment, the CEO was transformed into an older man wearing a wig, not the typical type of employee you would see in a surf shop. The segment took eight days of taping at retail stores in Las Vegas, Orange County and at the headquarters in Irvine.
"I looked so much like my dad, it really freaked me out," Bost said. "Every day after taping, I couldn't wait to get the moustache off."
He said the show allowed him the unique opportunity to see how his team could improve operations, sales training and internal communication with employees. Usually when he's around, he said, people are on their best behavior.
"It's not often the CEO gets to see what is happening in the company, day in and day out, unfiltered," he said. "I got to work with employees who had really interesting stories, both personal and career challenges. I don't think they would have opened up to me like that if I wasn't in disguise. It was definitely an interesting experience."
The brand O'Neill was started in Santa Cruz in 1952 by Jack O'Neill, who opened up the first surf shop and invented the world's first surfing wetsuit. O'Neill continues to be one of the biggest surf brands in the world.
To watch segments of the show, go to: cbs.com/shows/undercover_boss
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