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The Skype dismissal of Rico Back as chief executive of the Royal Mail should not come as a shock.
The very notion of the chief executive of one of the nation’s biggest front line employers sitting it out in Switzerland while postal workers have been on the battleground in the Covid-19 epidemic was unacceptable.
Royal Mail chairman and former BA boss Keith Williams, who will temporarily take the reins as executive chairman (without any lift in pay), has done the right thing.
Back’s appointment looked sensible when it was made. As the architect of Global Logistics Systems (GLS), Royal Mail’s profitable European parcels service, he looked to have ideal skills to lead the business.
The biggest shift taking place in deliveries in the UK, speeded up by coronavirus, is from snail mail to parcels delivery.
Whereas the Royal Mail has all the mechanised sorting it needs for the letter post, it is way behind on parcels. Back looked the best person to fix it.
His near two years in the job have been fraught with governance failings. The £5.8million buyout of his contract with the GLS was extraordinary and tested the limits of company law.
Even more worrying was Back’s unwillingness to compromise his personal lifestyle to take on one of the most demanding chief executive jobs in Britain.
Even in normal times his commute from his Swiss idyll to London – while colleagues were fighting off dogs at the garden gates – was unacceptable.
It showed a lack of commitment to the fraught task in hand, including dealings with the highly engaged Communications Workers Union.
The idea that the Royal Mail board, responsible for producing stamps with the Queen’s head, should think it fitting for the chief executive to live overseas was all wrong.
That may have been tolerable if he had been successful in guiding the necessary processing and logistics reforms.
But to be overseas through a crisis on the scale of the present one was unconscionable.
His absence rightly outraged union leaders but was also a source of huge disquiet inside Royal Mail headquarters and on the board.
Williams has risen to the challenge of the chairman’s main job, which is to sack a chief executive.
Back lacked an understanding of what is expected of a company with a public service remit, and had little obvious empathy with a workforce of more than 160,000.
He leaves with what, in boardroom terms, is a frugal pay-off worth £1million. In sharp contrast, posties and sorting office staff are to get a bonus worth £200 for working through a pandemic. Pitiful.