Not the Zumba class

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Jane Riddell feared she wouldn’t clear airport security while wearing a convincing disguise for her recent appearance on Undercover Boss Canada.

But that turned out to be among the least of her worries.

The GoodLife Fitness COO’s biggest challenge while filming an episode of the popular TV series comes when she agrees to lead a Zumba class at one of the national gym chain’s Toronto-area clubs.

"That was the most terrifying for me because I can’t dance worth crap and I don’t like being in front of a crowd, so it’s like the worst possible combination of circumstances," Riddell recalls in a phone interview from GoodLife headquarters in London, Ont.

"I tried to get off the stage really fast and they pulled me back up."

The 57-year-old executive says the premise of Undercover Boss — where head honchos covertly rub shoulders with the rank-and-file to gain valuable insight on their company’s inner workings — provided for a "totally humbling" experience.

Riddell, disguised with 200 hair extensions and lots of makeup, poses as an employee named Donna Bright.

Besides struggling as a Zumba instructor, she also works stints as a personal trainer and membership consultant in Ottawa, a club services technician in Winnipeg, and a child-minding employee in Calgary.

"I’m quite awful at a lot of those jobs," admits Riddell, second in command behind GoodLife’s sole owner David (Patch) Patchell-Evans.

Fortunately, she isn’t "fired" on the show. More importantly, the Lethbridge, Alta., native gains tremendous insight during her clandestine time on the front lines.

"I learned that we have some amazing people that we’re so privileged to have work with our company," she says, noting she was reminded that employees should never be taken for granted.

"I also learned that every time we go to make a decision that affects frontline operations, we need to have input from the people who are doing the jobs there. Sometimes we get caught up in either the speed of trying to make a decision or the fact that we think we know better. But from now on, it’s a law at GoodLife that we’ll never make a decision without feedback and input from the people who are actually doing that work."

Riddell also learned that airport security isn’t quite as stringent as she thought.

"I was nervous about flying because I thought, ‘My passport picture doesn’t look anything like what I look like (in disguise),’" she says, noting her dogs barked at her because they didn’t recognize their master. "But never once did I get questioned or pulled aside (by airport security)."

Riddell started at GoodLife 30 years ago while earning a master’s degree in physical education at the University of Western Ontario.

She sold memberships, taught classes, worked the front desk, cleaned the club and fixed equipment before growing with the firm and climbing the corporate ladder.

"I did all those jobs, but everything has changed so much. It’s been a long time since I worked on the front line," she adds. "One thing I always love when I’m in the clubs is the energy and the connection with the members. That hasn’t changed."

Riddell’s sports and fitness background includes playing college basketball, competitive soccer and recreational volleyball, and running two marathons.

A fit 135 pounds at 5-foot-5, she treats her workouts as appointments, blocking off an hour most days to head across the street from the corporate offices to the fitness club.

Riddell works with a personal trainer "who kills me and keeps me honest" every Saturday.

She also frequents several of GoodLife’s Group EXercise classes.

"I really enjoy all aspects of fitness," she says.

"I’ve got tons of energy. I have brilliant health. I do feel I’m blessed. I feel like I do live a good life."

Undercover Boss Canada airs on W Network.

Jane’s fitness tip:

"Schedule your workout. "If I don’t schedule it, it doesn’t happen. I need to write it down. That’s my commitment. Then you do make the time for it."