Filling Runyon’s shoes

Jul 01, 1998 9:30 PM  By

While the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors has been under attack for pursuing what many mailers feel is an unnecessary rate increase, it’s drawing raves for its selection of new postmaster general William Henderson. Henderson, 51, who was named the nation’s 71st PMG on May 12, is a lifelong postal employee, having started out as a management trainee in 1972. He succeeds Marvin Runyon, who after nearly six years on the job resigned to return to the private sector.

Considering some recent comments Henderson has made, it’s no wonder mailers and postal watchdogs are all smiles. Shortly after he was promoted to the PMG slot from his post as chief operating officer, Henderson told Catalog Age that catalogers will be able to count on improved delivery service this fall/holiday season. “Catalog delivery is going to be outstanding,” Henderson said. “We are tracking it more closely and have contingency plans in place. We absolutely will not let anything ruin this holiday season-that’s a promise.” (Last year, hundreds of catalogs were delivered late throughout the fall/holiday season-most notably during September and October, when catalogs were given a lower priority as postal workers desperately tried to get out mail that had been shuffled aside during the UPS strike in August.)

Giving good rhetoric Whether the new PMG and his staff of 776,000-plus deliver on his promise remains to be seen. But Henderson, who served as chief marketing officer before being named COO in 1994 by Runyon, is well-liked by mailers and postal observers.

“He will do a terrific job,” says Mike Muoio, chairman/president/CEO of Miles Kimball, a $116 million gifts and novelties cataloger. “Every interface we’ve had with him has been good. He’ll lead a tremendous capital equipment improvement program and bring the Postal Service into the 21st century from a technological standpoint, and that investment will provide stability of rates moving forward.”

And from the vantage point of nonprofit catalogers, “we look forward to working with Bill as we face the challenges of the coming days,” says Neal Denton, executive director of the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers. “Nonprofit mailers would like to consider ourselves Friends of Bill.”

Likewise, Direct Marketing Association president/CEO Robert Wientzen says his group “commends the governors for their choice. Bill is a strong leader with an inside knowledge of the Postal Service in this time of dramatic change in business communications.”

But is Henderson too much of an insider? Postal economist and catalog consultant Walter Bernheimer says his early take on Henderson is “a mixed bag.” On the plus side, he says, the new PMG won’t have any learning curve. But then again, someone from outside the USPS may have a more objective viewpoint. “Will Henderson be able to make the tough decisions when it comes to negotiating with the major labor unions, improving relations with employees, and bringing forward new technology and products?” Bernheimer asks. “He’s a very nice man who seems to say the right things. But will he deliver?”

At any rate, Henderson has big shoes to fill. Runyon will be remembered for having led the USPS during two relatively modest rate increases, as well as for spearheading three successive $1 billion-plus years in the black.

On the other hand, in his lone negotiation with the major postal unions-the American Postal Workers Union and the National Association of Letter Carriers-in 1994, Runyon was unable to negotiate a contract favorable to management, as the parties settled through binding arbitration. Catalog delivery service also was erratic during Runyon’s tenure-particularly last fall, giving Henderson at least two areas on which to put his own stamp.