John Hartmann joined True Value as President and CEO just over a year and a half ago, in May of 2013, on the retirement of his predecessor Lyle Heidemann.  Upon assumption to the corporate throne, Mr. Hartmann immediately revealed signs of his proactive future.

Immediately on joining the long-running, third place member co-op, Hartmann set out to travel the country to meet with retail members and associates, in order to get a feel for what factors truly contributed to the co-op’s operational successes and what parts of the operations needed improvement.  Typical of his nature, Mr. Hartmann chose to opt for an immediate, hands-on approach to grow the company, long a distant follower to direct rivals Ace Hardware and Do It Best, in Chain Store Guide’s Index of Leading Companies.

Now, Mr. Hartmann is again traversing the country to visit stores and meet with associates, but this time in disguise, under an alias.  Mr. Hartmann recently conducted what literally proved to be a coast to coast tour of True Value properties, to inaugurate the sixth season of “Undercover Boss”, which will be airing on CBS on Dec. 14.

Of course, as per show expectations, the True Value boss will visit company locations ranging from member stores to distribution centers.  Mr. Hartmann will assume a diverse variety of positions including sales associate at a member store and a forklift operator at one of True Value’s distribution centers.

Mr. Hartmann comes especially qualified for a part in undercover TV.  Twenty five years ago, after completing his graduate law degree, Mr. Hartmann was recruited by the FBI.  He worked for the agency for ten years, based in Central Pennsylvania.  Much of his work was performed undercover and was far more dangerous than anything “Undercover Boss” can offer.  During his FBI stint, he served with the violent crimes and major offences unit and performed drug related undercover work before moving on to racketeering and organized crime.  Ultimately, Hartmann served in undercover foreign counterintelligence.

Fifteen years ago he left the FBI and undercover operations to return to grad school with an eye on the business world.  He then served in executive positions for a pharmaceutical company, before spending eight years at Home Depot and its then division, HD Supply.  Later he moved his considerable skills to a New Zealand based cooperative, which went on to mark an impressive record of sales for its members.

Apparently, Mr. Hartmann and the True Value hierarchy carefully weighed the pros and cons of an appearance on “Undercover Boss”.  It seems that despite his considerable undercover history, he was apprehensive as to the ramifications an appearance might deliver.  In the end, Mr. Hartmann saw the exercise as an opportunity to get a unique view of company and member operations and associates.  The stint on the show was seen as a strong vehicle to promote the company’s much anticipated, new strategic plan.

“Undercover Boss” is somewhat of a formulaic, feel-good show.  Undercover executives often work with the managers and employees who struggle as they give their all to their respective company.  Several of these associates are rewarded as their ideas are employed by the company. Others are put through school, given bonuses and/or promotions, raises and even modest, paid off homes, among other heartfelt solutions to personal or family problems.

Appearing on “Undercover Boss” doesn’t always culminate in warm, fuzzy feelings.  This past January, a CSG Insight entitled An Undercover Boss Loses His Bloom and His Job, explored the experience of Michael Bloom who had appeared on “Undercover Boss”, as the President and COO of the rapidly growing Family Dollar Stores chain.  At the time of his appearance, many thought Mr. Bloom to be the apparent CEO in waiting.

Shortly after his undercover appearance, Mr. Bloom was forced out at Family Dollar.  A series of weak financials was the apparent culprit here.  Currently Family Dollar is in the process of selling itself to Dollar Tree as Dollar General continues to raise its bid for the dollar store retailer.

It is unlikely Mr. Hartmann will face such a demise any time soon.  Considering his resume, his sometimes struggling company appears to be in capable, experienced hands.  In addition to post grad schooling at numerous prestigious universities and his international, diversified work experience, he’s also a recreational motocross biker and ocean fisherman.  Clearly he’s an executive who is not afraid to tackle virtually any hands-on project, a natural in the DIY world of True Value.