MS Sponsors Reality TV: Will Jack Welch Trump The Donald?

By , CIO.com |  Tech & society, advertising, Microsoft

Donald Trump, you'd better watch your back. Microsoft is getting into the reality TV game with the next phase of Redmond's "It's Everybody's Business" ad campaign. The software company has tapped the tough-talking former head of GE, Jack Welch, and his wife and co-author Suzy to give guidance to real-life companies that are wrestling with business and technology quandaries.

The Welches won't be pointing any fingers and saying "You're fired." But they do play the role of no-nonsense mediators, applying Welch's well-known "Work-Out" method that breaks employees into teams to work out solutions to problems - in this case, business development, marketing and IT pros crafting a presentation for Hertz CEO Mark Frissora.

While this week shines the spotlight on Hertz, the show will feature a different company in each of the subsequent episodes.

The often-opinionated Welch holds executives accountable for poor communication and inefficiencies while also guiding them in the right direction to improve the business.

The first episode, debuting today on MSN.com, focuses on Hertz's launch of a car-sharing startup called Connect by Hertz that will compete with ZipCar.

After a successful launch in New York, London and Paris, there's some disconnect at Hertz Connect, as the company struggles with how to distribute existing resources to keep up momentum and profitability.

Hertz CIO and senior vice president of customer care Joe Eckroth, who spent five years at GE and is familiar with Welch's "Work Out" method, says he could tell the show would work well for Hertz, because the company had some lingering issues that needed to get out on the table.

"For us, resources were an issue. We were struggling with our fleet management system [software that manages cars]," says Eckroth. "We were struggling not because we didn't think it was important, but because it's hard work and we hadn't figured out yet how to allocate existing technology."

Eckroth says what the Work Out method does well is get everybody together and put a spotlight on an issue until there's a resolution.

"With a high-paced start up like Connect with Hertz you can't muddle through with lots of backroom discussions about how to get more horsepower out of people. You need people in dedicated roles," he says.

"The Work Out method brought things right to the front. It got my attention. It got Mark's [Hertz CEO Mark Frissora] attention. And we made the call to put resources in place," Eckroth says, noting that Hertz threw more effort at its fleet management system software as a result.

But it wasn't easy getting there. As the Welches try to get Hertz business development, marketing and IT execs on the same page to prepare a pitch for the CEO, tension mounts between business units. At one point in the episode, when Welch provokes the intense Griff Long, Hertz Connect's Senior Director of Global Car Sharing, about his job title, Long shouts, "It doesn't matter what the title is, I get the job done Jack!"

It's these raw and honest moments that give the show resonance. Even with the heavy-handed action-thriller background music and the obvious "Apprentice" influence, "It's Everybody's Business with Jack and Suzy Welch" is a useful guide for any business. It's also entertaining.

Eckroth praises the show as a great learning experience, despite exposing to the public some of Hertz's difficult internal issues.

"I felt a little hesitant because the Work Out method can expose dirty laundry in a company. But the cool part was there was great back and forth. Jack's challenges made our guys sit back and think."

As they continue to grow the Connect business, Hertz's execs plan to have the same dialogue amongst themselves that they had with Jack and Suzy Welch, Eckroth says.

"And a year from now we'll be beating up ZipCar."

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