A large coast-to-coast retail and logistics company is seeking a new chief executive to revitalize its marginally profitable business. The ideal candidate must be able to thrive in a challenging environment that includes a steady erosion of revenue, second-guessing by its major shareholder and fractious labour relations. Your mandate will be to find new revenue sources, fill a massive unfunded pension gap and cut costs without curtailing services.
The search for a new Canada Post chief executive won't be easy.
The federal government has saddled the incoming CEO with a seemingly impossible task after ducking the post office's main predicament – reconciling financial self-sufficiency with a vanishing core business.
Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough unveiled the government's "vision for renewal" at Canada Post at a sorting facility in Mississauga on Wednesday. The centrepiece of the government's long-delayed plan is the permanent cancellation of the controversial shift of millions of Canadian households from doorstep delivery to communal mailboxes. It also says it will let the Crown corporation reinvest its profit, which totalled $81-million in 2016, rather than paying dividends to the government.
But Ottawa isn't reinstating service to the roughly 840,000 homes converted in the months before the Liberal government took power in 2015.
"We are not going to put the toothpaste back in the tube," Ms. Qualtrough told reporters.
Current CEO Deepak Chopra, a former Pitney Bowes executive, is due to leave at the end of March after seven years on the job.
The government hinted that it may let Canada Post grow by exploring such things as expanding its money-order business, using rural post offices to deliver government services, deploying parcel lockers and offering weekend delivery. "There are some innovative ways that mail is being delivered around the world, and I leave it to the best judgment and discretion of Canada Post and its leadership to explore these," Ms. Qualtrough said.
Executive search experts say Canada Post needs to find an executive with experience leading a company through transformative change.
"When you do a search like this, you have to look at what the business is going to become," said Kelly Blair, an executive-search expert and senior partner at Caldwell Partners in Toronto. "It's classic disruption case. The business needs to be looked at from a very different perspective."
She likened the post office's challenge to those in industries being upended by companies such as Amazon and Uber.
A string of government-commissioned reports have identified home delivery as the only viable source of potential savings. But a backlash from big city mayors and seniors caused the Liberals to halt conversions.
The most recent report was a Liberal-appointed independent task force, which in 2016 laid out a menu of options that would have saved Canada Post roughly $600-million a year. The most significant savings would have come from ending door-to-door delivery ($400-million) and franchising 800 of the busiest post offices ($177-million).
The government has already taken at least one of those options off the table, before hiring a new CEO.
Ottawa still hasn't found a better way to get Canada Post out of its existential challenge. Every year, the post office delivers fewer letters to a growing number of addresses, resulting in costs that are rising faster than revenue and massive pension obligations it may not be able to deliver on in the future.
Online shopping is leading to a boom in its parcel business, but it's still not enough. And Canada Post, with a network geared toward letter delivery, has had trouble keeping up with parcel demand, leading to delays during the recent holiday rush.
"Unfortunately, [Wednesday's] decision by the Government of Canada yet again postpones difficult decisions in kicking the problem of collapsing mail volumes down the road," said Ian Lee, a Carleton University associate business professor who has studied Canada Post.
In launching the search for a new CEO, Ms. Qualtrough said the government wants new leadership that "will reflect greater diversity and broader perspectives, including labour."
Job No. 1 for the new CEO will be to renegotiate expiring collective agreements with the postal service's tens of thousands of unionized workers.
But as its business shrinks, the post office will find it harder to both stay profitable and keep the peace with unions, who see an expanded postal service as the key to protecting jobs, pay and pensions.