Mailers Give Runyon Warm Sendoff at Postal Forum

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LAS VEGAS--In a packed room of more than 6,000 mailers and senior postal employees, Postmaster General Marvin Runyon addressed his final National Postal Forum last week.


Runyon, who is scheduled to leave the U.S. Postal Service in May, told mailers that over the past six years, it has transformed from an inward-looking bureaucracy into a competitive, customer-focused business that has delivered three years of historic service and financial performance.


He recalled that when he first started working there, "a lot of people were calling the postal service a dinosaur -- a massive, lumbering beast that would never be able to keep pace with the smaller, more agile competitors and lightning-fast electronic technologies that were springing to life on the communications landscape."


But he said customers and employees showed him a different image -- that of a majestic eagle, the postal service's trademark, whose feathers were slightly tattered but whose spirit was strong.


"You made me realize if we could free her from the heavy burden of rules and red tape, outdated systems and cumbersome procedure, the postal eagle would fly farther and faster than it ever had before."


Now, he said, the eagle is soaring: "I firmly believe you are just getting a glimpse of what this eagle can do.''


Runyon also spoke of the postal service's plans for improved delivery service, greater customer convenience, hi-tech postal plants and below- inflation prices -- even as its competitors are raising their rates.


"[UPS] made a billion dollars in 1995. It made a billion dollars in 1996. And even with the strike, it came close to another billion in 1997," he said. "But, still, UPS has raised your rates every single year."


And, in what seemed to be a response to the outcry over the postal service's proposed rate increases, Runyon said, "It sounds to me like they [UPS] are playing Monopoly. And, I ask you, where is the outcry over their actions?"


Runyon highlighted other successes -- including lifting service to historic levels, earning record volumes and revenue, and delivering a billion-dollar surplus -- but said the postal service has a long way to go.


"There is growing resolve among postal management, labor and employees to improve workplace relationships," he said, "and CustomerPerfect [the USPS customer-service initiative] is helping to guide an integrated, systematic effort to create a performance-based culture."


At the end of the speech, Runyon received a standing ovation, and William J. Henderson, chief operating officer and executive vice president of USPS, gave him a Steuben Crystal African lion as a sign of appreciation that USPS is roaring into the future and in recognition of Runyon's "unparalleled contribution to the growth and success of the U.S. Postal Service and the National Postal Forum."


In the exhibit hall, lobbies and bars at the Las Vegas Hilton, many mailers expressed their sadness and speculated on who will take Runyon's place.


Outsiders such as Ellen Hancock, an executive at Apple Computer, and Jim Jellison, executive vice president of the Parcel Shippers Association, were rumored to be possibilities. But most said they expect USPS will choose an insider.


Deputy Postmaster General Michael S. Coughlin, Henderson and Michael J. Riley, chief financial officer and senior vice president of the USPS, were mentioned.


"The most obvious choice right now is Henderson," said Rich Nelson, vice president at Wachovia Bank, Atlanta, who is responsible for purchasing all postage and postal-related products for his company.


"While he and Coughlin both have great reputations, Henderson is known for being a good manager, with more people actually reporting to him than anyone else in the postal service."


Charles Howard, vice president of special projects and postal affairs at Harte-Hanks Direct Marketing, Glen Burnie, MD, agreed.


"Henderson is the most obvious choice," said Howard, who was attending his 22nd postal forum.
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