Jose Mas, the real Jose Mas, CEO of Coral Gables-based MasTec.
Jose Mas wasn’t worried about how he would fare as Undercover Boss fodder on the CBS reality series, but his mother Irma had concerns.
After all, she had caught a couple episodes and had seen that some of the white-collar executives didn’t fare so well out in the field when their collars turned blue.
What the blue collars do, of course, is not what Mas, 40, does in his Coral Gables office where he runs MasTec, a public company with more than a billion in revenue that provides infrastructure for electric, gas, telecommunications, satellite TV, and other areas.
These people, the 12,000 strong, are the employees at 250 offices nationwide who largely do the work in the fields, working with wind turbines, transformers, and cable and telephone installation.On Undercover Boss’ third season finale, Mas becomes one of them. In disguise. Gone is the goatee and dark hair, in is a bleached ’do that took months to return to its normal color after filming ended last summer.
“You wouldn’t recognize me. It was an interesting experience. I never had my hair bleached or dyed,” Mas said, laughing.
Undercover Boss follows executives as they leave the familiarity of their corporate offices and engage in a covert mission to examine the inner workings of their companies —with camera crews trailing behind. Real Housewives, this is not. Call it reality TV for the educated.
While working alongside their employees incognito, the executives theoretically can see the effects their decisions have on others in the company. Executives can gauge where festering problems might lie and, in the show’s big reveal, often reward the unsung heroes with trips, monetary gifts, and workspace improvements.
What first led producers to the company were its big impact and low profile.
“We were first attracted to the company itself,” Chris Carlson, the show’s executive producer, said of MasTec. “It’s a company that not many people have heard of but when you begin to scratch the surface of all they do, you see how vast the things America relies on everyday is. And that’s what their company is … installing these huge telephone and cellphone towers. It’s honest, cool, American hard work.”
And not completely foreign to Mas, who joined the company when his late father, Jorge Mas Canosa, founded MasTec in 1994 by combining two established construction companies, Burnup & Sims and Church & Tower. The younger Mas, a 1989 graduate of Christopher Columbus High School in West Miami-Dade, took over the top spot in 2007.
“I started in this business when I was in high school,” he said. “Dad made us work in the summers with a pick and a shovel but I hadn’t done that in a long time.”
Indeed, Mas was a bit out of his element when he was flown to the company’s Fort Myers site to work in the field with the Duran brothers, Kelvin, 31, and Alexander, 28, who are ground-line foremen. Both laugh when pressed for an evaluation of Mas’s work. “We don’t want to spoil the show,” Kelvin said. Still, the two dish a bit.
“He made it a good experience in our lives so far, so I’m pretty happy I had the chance and opportunity to do it,” Kelvin said. “A lot of our employees benefited from us going on this show.”
The two learned, for instance, that MasTec has a training course for their type of jobs.
And, no, the brothers had no idea who this blond stranger was.
Show producers merely told them they were filming a documentary about the economy and its effect on the average worker. “We never knew how he looked in the beginning, he could have been himself,” Kelvin said, laughing.
Among Mas’ roles: Installing transformer boxes in Fort Myers; putting up turbines in Idaho for renewable energy; and working on a high-voltage transmission line in Ponca City, Oklahoma and gas lines in Dallas.
“The jobs were physically challenging. But … I was getting to deal with people I wouldn’t [normally] get to deal with in my own company,” Mas said.
And, sure, the exposure from a Friday night TV series with a viewership topping six million nationwide can’t hurt. “I thought it was a great way to promote MasTec,” Mas said.
And Miami, too. “Many people don’t know what we do in this community. There are a lot of self-made people here, a lot of great cultures, a different type of exposure.”
While Undercover Boss put Miami business in the spotlight when it profiled Kevin Sheehan, of Norwegian Cruise Line, in 2011, and has featured Hispanic CEOs from Checkers and Chiquita Banana in previous seasons, Friday’s MasTec episode is the first to feature a company created by a Cuban-American exile and run by the son of one.
“I hope I do a decent job in portraying a different side of the community that came here with nothing and built something,” Mas said.
When Mas flew everyone to Miami’s Freedom Tower for the taping of the big reveal the big man was choked up. “That was a building my dad had bought and we renovated a long time ago. I got to explain what the Freedom Tower meant to the community. I hope that makes it to air.”
Mom shouldn’t worry, Carlson said. “He’s a very calm guy, very smart. What surprised me is the emotion he allowed to come out at the end. He got very emotional. I never expected that to happen.”
As for the Durans: “I wish I could become famous out of this,” Kelvin said.
“Don’t hold your breath,” Alex quipped.