Undercover Boss: Chief Development Officer of Subway: Where are They Now?
Don Fertman, the chief development officer of Subway, learned that he is terrible at making the sandwiches his stores sell.
Company Name: Subway
Undercover Boss: Don Fertman
Are They Still There?: No!
You’ve likely eaten a Subway sandwich at least once in your life! Subway is a quick-service food chain with tens of thousands of restaurants located all over the country. And the man who was behind Subway’s success for nearly 40 years was Don Fertman, the brand’s chief development officer. This boss’s job was to oversee the development of new stores, but Subway founder Fred DeLuca thought it would be a good idea for Don to collect insights from the front lines of the restaurants while undercover.
Don owes a lot to Subway and was more than happy to go undercover for Fred DeLuca. When Don was younger, he was in a band called The Crayons. His rock-n-roll lifestyle actually helped him get his first job at Subway, but also fostered his drug and alcohol addiction. After his alcoholism caused him to collapse at work, Subway was ready and willing to give Don a second chance after he got out of rehab. Don had been sober for 27 years at the time this episode of “Undercover Boss” was filmed and felt extremely grateful to Subway for being part of his recovery. Don even worked his past life into his back story for going undercover. Don decided to tell everyone he was a drug and alcohol counselor named John Wilson who was looking for a new career.
Job #1: Subway in Orlando, Florida
Don began his journey on “Undercover Boss” at a typical Subway in Orlando, Florida. Since Don has never made a Subway sandwich before, he wants to learn what it takes to make the sandwiches he sells. His trainer for the day is Jessi, a strict sandwich artist who has no plans of taking it easy on Don. Everything Jessi does is for the good of the customer and to improve business, and she has no tolerance for slow work or bad quality sandwiches. As you may expect, Don worked too slowly and didn’t meet Jessi’s standards. Eventually, she demotes this boss from working the sandwich line to cleaning up in the back. See how Jessi put Don through the wringer below:
Of course, Jessi is a person too and has a backstory of her own. Despite being only 19, this tough employee has had a difficult life. Her mother is not in the picture so Jessi has to work hard to put herself through school and make ends meet. When she doesn’t work at Subway, she helps her dad at his commercial carpet installation business.
Job #2: Subway in Auburn, Alabama
Don travels to a college town in Alabama to find out what it’s like to work in a busy subway on game day. Specifically, this Subway exec wanted to see how the store handled customer service when it was at its busiest. Luckily for Don, he was able to learn customer service from the best. The store manager, Sherri, either knew all the customers or made it feel like they had been friends for a long time.
Of course, Sherri makes customer service look much easier than it is. As the store gets busier and the line gets longer, Don struggles to work quickly enough. He has a hard time making sandwiches and talking to customers at the same time. Of course, Sherri has a lot more practice. She’s worked at Subway for 19 years and even had three kids working for Subway!
Job #3: Subway In A Science Center
Don travels back to Orlando, Florida to visit a store that had recently opened inside of a science center. Part of Don’s job as the chief development officer is to open new Subway stores. But a challenge he faces every time is figuring out how to meet demand at the new locations when you don’t know what that demand is yet. This is something he hopes to figure out during his third job.
Don joins Efrain, one of the youngest store managers ever, to see how this Subway location prepares for the day. Just like his second job, Don struggles with multitasking and can’t work quickly enough. At one point, this boss even locks himself inside the kitchen’s freezer!
But what Don really took from this job was getting to hear Efrain’s story. This 20-year-old became a store manager after only seven months, and was chosen as manager of the month out of hundreds of Subway stores. Don was also inspired when he heard that Efrain was an adopted child and hopes to become a foster parent himself one day.
Job #4: Subway in Buffalo, New York
Part of this boss’s job is opening Subway restaurants in unusual locations, such as inside other stores. But this is the first time Don has ever seen a Subway open inside of a church and he is curious to see if the business is successful. At the time this episode of “Undercover Boss” was filmed, this Subway location was testing a new delivery service. Don got to be part of the trial process by assisting Duane, the store manager.
During his time with Duane, Don got to help take orders and make deliveries. But getting to know Duane is his favorite part. He learned that Duane is a father to four adopted kids, but spends so much of his time working that they don’t get to spend much time together as a family. When he is not working for Subway or with his family, Duane is a pastor at another church.
Near the end of his shift, Don also gets to meet with Darius, the head pastor of the church. Darius explains why this Subway restaurant is so much more than just a store. Darius explains how Subway brought opportunities for employment to teach job skills to a struggling community. Don leaves his final job thinking Subway could help create more opportunities for other communities in more churches in the future.
The Big Reveal:
When Don began his “Undercover Boss” journey, founder Fred DeLuca encouraged him to listen to the people. And that is exactly what Don did. This boss felt meeting the people on the front lines of Subway was the highlight of his experience and he welcomed the opportunity to make all of their lives better.
Out of every boss he’s ever had, Jessi scared Don the most (in a good way). He thanks her for showing him the art of the sandwich. In order to show his gratitude, Don says he would pay for the rest of her college education and would be sending her on a vacation with her father so they could spend some time together.
Don has nothing but praise for Sherri. She is wonderful at everything she does and Don said it’s an honor to know “the subway lady.” Because she is so great at customer service, Don said he would pay her $5,000 to make a customer service video and wanted to fly her to California to give a customer service workshop at an upcoming convention. During her time in California, Don said he would also be sponsoring a shopping spree for his wonderful employee.
Don tells Efrain that his initiative is inspiring. Because of this, he wants Efrain to join Subway’s innovation committee so his voice could be heard. Additionally, Don said he would be giving Efrain $5,000 to donate to a foster organization of his choice and an additional $1,000 to do something special for his mom. It was perfect timing because her birthday was just two weeks away!
The boss wanted Duane to know that he was amazed at how he built the Subway business and the community. Duane inspired Don to create a subway program that would empower communities by teaching job skills. He asked Don to be an advisor for the new program and said he would be compensated nicely for his time. Next, Don waived the franchise fee so Duane could open a new Subway in the church where he preaches. And last but not least, Don started a college fund for Duane’s kids. He said he would be putting in $20,000 to start the fund, or $5,000 for each child.
Where is Don Fertman, Chief Development Officer of Subway, now?
After nearly 40 years of working for Subway, Don Fertman parted ways with the company in January of 2021. According to his LinkedIn, Don currently serves on the boards of Brave Enough To Fail Inc. and The Phoenix. Brave Enough To Fail is America’s #1 motivational program for students and The Phoenix is a nonprofit that provides support to individuals recovering from substance use disorder. Although Don is at least partially retired, it seems like he is still trying to make his mark on the world in the best possible way.