An Post changes on the slow boat

Mueller has his work cut out to give sustainability plans wings

Post office on Lower Baggot Street in Dublin. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Post office on Lower Baggot Street in Dublin. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Tue, Apr 29, 2014, 01:00

There’s an old saying in the corporate world that you should never let a good crisis go to waste. In other words, you can use a crisis to restructure your business and negotiate changes that you might not be able to effect in ‘peacetime’.

An Post’s annual report, published last week, suggests that the State-owned company might have done just that. Six years on from the economic crash and it is still grappling with restructuring and putting the business on the path to sustainable profitability.

In 2013, the company made an operating loss of €11.5 million in spite of an increase in turnover of 0.5 per cent and being able to net an extra €20 million from a stamp price increase. Its cost base reduced by just 0.2 per cent and it had a pension deficit of €229 million.

In his chairman’s review, Christoph Mueller, whose day job is to run Aer Lingus, said a new five-year “roadmap” had been developed to put the business on a sustainable path. Mueller only took over last June but the reality is that the company should have reached its destination by now. Instead, it is still fiddling with its sat-nav. Much is made in the report about the 386 reduction in its headcount, but the company still employed 10,867 staff in 2013. This figure excludes the 1,090 agents engaged as postmasters. The payroll bill was a chunky €517 million with staff and postmasters costs amounting to 68 per cent of operating costs. And its operating costs exceed its income by €11.5 million. Chief executive Donal Connell states that another 1,000 staff will leave the business over the next five years, but why has it taken so long?

An Post would argue its cost base is out of kilter partly because it is obliged to deliver mail to every corner of the country. And then there are obligations faced by State companies in relation to industrial relations.

However, questions could be asked as to why there is no woman among its 10-strong management team and why five spots on its board are taken up by employee directors. This is hardly corporate governance for the 21st century.

Mueller might have turned around Aer Lingus since 2009 but he’ll have his work cut out to deliver the same result here.

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