Undercover Boss: President and CEO of ABM: Where are They Now?
Henrik Slipsager, the president and CEO of ABM, risked his life to wash windows on a skyscraper but couldn’t overcome his fear of heights.
Company Name: ABM
Undercover Boss: Henrik Slipsager
Are They Still There?: No!
On this episode of “Undercover Boss,” Henrik Slipsager decides it’s his turn to go undercover. Until 2015, Henrik was the president and CEO of ABM, which is America’s number one provider of maintenance and facility services in airports and offices all over the country. This boss wants to meet his employees because he wants to learn what it takes to make sure good people don’t leave the company unnecessarily. In other words, Henrik’s goal is to limit staff turnover. So, this executive assumes the identity of a Dutch immigrant looking for a new life and prepares to join his workers on the front lines of ABM.
While this boss had a rather practical goal, his week on “Undercover Boss” ends up becoming more emotional than he expected. This is because ABM was deeply impacted by the events of 9/11. On that horrible day, more than 800 ABM employees were working in the Twin Towers, many of whom lost their lives. Even as the tenth anniversary of this tragedy approached, Henrik and many of his employees still felt its lasting impact.
Job #1: Airport Shuttle Driver in Tampa, FL
Shuttle bus operations are an important part of the parking services ABM offers. So, Henrik is up at 4:30 am to learn what it takes to become an airport shuttle driver. His trainer for the day is Kenny, who has worked as a bus driver for 4 or 5 years. But despite Kenny’s excellent training, Henrik is not cut out for the job. Henrik moves too slowly, forgets the names of the shuttle stops, and ultimately gets removed from the job after accidentally cussing over the airport-wide radio.
That said, Henrik’s first shift wasn’t a total bust because he got to know Kenny. This ambitious employee was a great trainer and the picture of who a customer service representative should be. Kenny also had big dreams of becoming a firefighter and went to school to pursue his future every day, working for ABM before or after class.
Job #2: Commercial Window Washing in Chicago, IL
When ABM was formed more than 100 years ago, it started as a window washing company. Henrik thought it was important for him to go back to ABM’s roots and try window washing himself. Since the window washers put their lives in danger every day to clean skyscrapers, Henrik also wanted to make sure the teams were following proper safety protocols.
For this shift, Henrik is paired with Peter, an experienced window washer who has worked for ABM for 14 years. Much to Henrik’s relief, Peter does take safety very seriously. But that still doesn’t help this CEO feel any less scared when it’s his turn to go up on the scaffolding and wash windows from up high. Eventually, Henrik’s fear of heights gets the best of him and he asks Peter to take him back down.
So, what would make someone work such a dangerous job for so many years? Peter started working in this field when he was single, but now he does it to provide for his family. He has three kids, one of whom is a son who suffers from cerebral palsy. The therapy his condition requires is very expensive and not something that’s always possible for Peter and his wife, even with both parents working multiple jobs.
Job #3: Cleaning 7 World Trade Center in New York
For his third job, Henrik travels to the first building to be rebuilt since the 9/11 tragedy. He joins Maria, a janitorial worker, to find out what it takes to clean the World Trade Center. Henrik explained that he is frustrated that janitorial work is often viewed as lowly and thinks that these people should be shown more appreciation. As Henrik expected, the work is hard and not very glamorous, such as cleaning toilets, but it’s very necessary. He also gets valuable insights from Maria regarding things employees care about, such as women wishing their uniforms consisted of pants instead of a skirt.
This boss also finds that working in the World Trade Center brought back lots of hard memories from 9/11. He asks Maria if she feels the same way, and she confirms she does. In a solemn moment, she tells Henrik that her 27-year-old nephew, who also worked for ABM, died during the terrorist attack.
Job #4: Operating Freight Elevators At 7 World Trade Center in New York
Before returning to his normal life as president and CEO of ABM, Henrik has one job left and it might be the most emotional one of them all. For his final shift, the boss joins Larry to learn how to be a freight elevator operator within the World Trade Center. Larry is fantastic at the job and is great at interacting with everyone who steps through the elevator doors. Larry tells Henrik that he’s been with ABM for 26 years. He began as an elevator operator and eventually became a foreman. But after suffering a stroke, Larry decided to go back to being an elevator operator. He could have retired after his stroke, but he has a lot of love for ABM and enjoys the work.
Already impressed by Larry’s great attitude, Henrik wants to know about his worker’s experience on 9/11. Larry was working at the World Trade Center on the day of the terrorist attack and had just entered one of the towers when the first plane hit. Henrik was relieved to know that Larry thought ABM did a good job of taking care of its employees in the wake of the tragedy. Larry appreciated that ABM gave him time to recuperate before making sure he stayed employed.
The Big Reveal:
Henrik was deeply impacted by his time undercover. He said it would be a week he’d never forget. He ultimately returned home wishing he could be good friends with every employee he met and feeling like ABM had a great future ahead thanks to the wonderful people working for the company.
This boss loved the way Kenny did his job so much that he wanted to challenge his dreams of becoming a firefighter. Instead of planning to leave the company, Henrik wanted to train Kenny to become a manager and move up the ranks within ABM. Henrik also said he would be paying for Kenny’s education for as long as he was working for ABM.
Henrik wanted Peter to know that he made him feel as safe and secure as he possibly could, even while washing windows on the precarious scaffolding. Because of this, Henrik wanted to pay Peter to become part of a safety council to make sure all window washing crews operated as safely. But what really made Peter’s day was when Henrik offered to help pay for the therapy his son needed due to his cerebral palsy.
Henrik told Maria that she did a wonderful job and then joked that the manual labor she made him do nearly killed him. In order to show his gratitude, Henrik got Maria the uniform with the pants that she had been wanting. Then, he told Maria that she inspired him to dedicate 17 granite pavers at the World Trade Center Memorial site to honor the ABM employees who lost their lives on 9/11. Lastly, Henrik told Maria that ABM would be donating $25,000 to a 9/11 fund in her nephew’s name to honor his memory.
Henrik told Larry that his time with him was tough but incredibly touching. The CEO starts by telling his employee that he loved how he interacted with guests in his elevator. Then he talks about how powerful Larry’s 9/11 story was for him to hear. Larry inspired Henrik to set up a reunion for all the ABM employees who got scattered to different locations after the towers fell so old friends and co-workers could reunite. Henrik also said he would be sending Larry and his wife on a free vacation to anywhere they wanted to go.
Where is Henrik Slipsager, President and CEO of ABM, now?
In 2015, Mr. Slipsager left ABM to pursue other opportunities. After spending 15 years with the company, we can understand why this boss may have desired a change. According to his LinkedIn, Henrik is currently an operating executive in business services at the Carlyle Group, a large global investment firm. He also serves as a board member for several notable companies, such as Arctic Glacier Premium Ice, PureStar, Lithko Contracting, and CSC ServiceWorks.