New postal chief breaks a barrier

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Norway’s volatile postal system, Posten Norge, has been closing post offices and reinventing itself for years as it goes through constant transformation in a digital era. Now it has a new chief executive, and her appointment marks another major change: Tone Wille is Posten’s first female top executive in its 369-year history.

Tone Wille has just taken over as boss of the Norwegian postal service. She said she would spend the first few months visiting various regions around the country, at a time when customers in Oslo need some attention, too. PHOTO: Posten

Tone Wille has just taken over as boss of the Norwegian postal service. She said she would spend the first few months visiting various regions around the country, at a time when customers in Oslo need some attention, too. PHOTO: Posten

“Yes, I’ll be Posten’s first female chief,” Wille told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) when her appointment was announced earlier this fall. Norway has long had among the world’s largest numbers of top women politicians and business leaders, but Wille’s appointment broke yet a new barrier. There’s only been men at the helm of Posten since 1647.

They’ve had varying degrees of success, and Norwegians who still like to write letters or send and receive birthday cards and packages in the mail have had reason to complain in recent years. For one thing, post offices are disappearing as quickly as bank branches, making it a long hike to the nearest surviving post office. Postal rates continue to rise and remain more than double those in the US, for example, where even the smallest town in sparsely populated states like Wyoming still have a post office.

Receivers of gift packages in Norway, meanwhile, are often plagued by wrongful claims for VAT or customs duty that must be appealed, while senders can get hit with fines and claims for insufficient postage even on seemingly regular cards that may be just slightly over Posten’s weight limits. In another recent case, an entire apartment building in downtown Oslo didn’t even get mail delivered for weeks this past summer, or any warning that something was amiss, after postal workers allegedly misplaced the building’s front-door key.

While postal service officials have complained that the volume of letters sent in Norway has cut in half since 2000, they’ve arguably contributed to the problem themselves because of unreliable and expensive service. Wille, who took over her new job two weeks ago, thus has a big and important job ahead of her, to improve service and win back the public’s trust.

She shows no signs of veering away from Posten’s ongoing transformation. “We must continue to make structual changes in order to maintain profits,” she told DN. Wille, age 53, indicated that staff cuts will also continue: “We have reduced staffing by around 1,000 people every year the past few years, and there will continue to be fewer employees.” She admitted to being “more impatient” to make changes now than earlier.

Wille told DN that the decline in letter-sending was expected to continue, sending a worrisome signal that Posten won’t make it priority, either, but she also could boast “good growth” in package volume because of online shopping. Posten has to deal with the past and the future every day, DN noted, and she said her main challenge will be “to continue the restructuring process in a digital age.”

Wille, who graduated from Norway’s business school NHH in Bergen, also faces more competition. Posten Norge has lost its monopoly on sending letters, also those weighing less than 50 grams. She thinks it’s “exciting,” however, to lead an organization of 18,000 employees at present that’s in continuous change. She told DN she relaxes by sailing and visiting old college friends in Bergen and her grown sons, one of whom is studying in Copenhagen while the other is working in London.

She joined Posten Norge 10 years ago, after holding positions as investment director at Norfund, senior vice president and chief financial officer of GE Energy (Norway) and working at Kværner Energy AS. She told DN she didn’t think she’d stick around at Posten this long, but said the job offered “many new opportunities” because of all the change. She worked as finance director before rising to the top job, replacing Dag Mejdell who quit last spring after 11 years. She faced both internal and external competition for the job.

“Tone has broad strategic and operative experience and a deep understanding of the concern’s challenges,” Posten Chairman Idar Kreutzer stated in a press release. Norwegian consumers are likely hoping for some “deep understanding” of their needs as well, not least on the eve of the holiday rush in December for those who still dare to send Christmas cards and gifts through the mail.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund