At the ripe age of 55, Postmaster General Jack Potter announced his retirement today from the worst CEO job in America.
Some will no doubt speculate about the reasons -- a coming change in Congress or perhaps the failure so far to notch any major political victories on such issues as rate increases, five-day delivery or retiree-benefits reform. But I have my own theory.
The job stinks.
By any measure, the U.S. Postal Service is among the top five employers in the country. Chiefs of any similar-sized private organization get at least 10 times as much compensation -- and far fewer complaints about how much they're being paid.
I've had my criticisms of Potter's Postal Service, but most of what's wrong seems to predate Potter. And change doesn't come easily to such a massively bureaucratic and complex organization. Laws, regulations, political forces, union contracts, and the inability to hire talented managers from outside the organization all tie the PMG's hands in a way that no private-sector CEO has to deal with.
Most CEOs have a board of directors consisting of fellow or former CEOs, investment bankers, high-powered lawyers, and others who can provide valuable guidance. But the Postal Service's board of governors is made up mostly of political hacks with little relevant knowledge or experience.
And then there's the Postal Service's other governing body, consisting of 535 politicians who drain billions from the USPS in pension and benefits funds to hide the size of the federal deficit, carp about how much money the Postal Service is losing, then scream "not in my district" whenever attempted Postal Service streamlining hits too close to home.
Want to launch a new venture? If you're the PMG, forget about the usual discussions of return on investment or marketing plans. First you have to figure out who might object and whether they have the political clout to block the path.
A money-losing business with an acknowledged need to downsize moves quickly, with many people working round the clock to implement buyout packages and to consolidate operations. But the Postal Service's downsizing efforts creak along, with each facility consolidation the subject of many months of study, public hearings, protests, and Congressional badgering.
And instead of encouraging people to retire to reduce operating expenses, the bureaucracy discourages them instead by offering incomplete, sometimes inaccurate, benefits information and notoriously slow payments.
To no one's surprise, Potter is being replaced by his right-hand man, Pat Donahoe, the deputy PMG and chief operating officer. My condolences, Pat.