Putting fresh wind in old sails

With more than 200 years of service under its belt, Australia Post recently welcomed a new chief executive, Ahmed Fahour.

Photo: Urs Flüeler/keystone

UPU: What attracted you, as a former international high-flying banker, to take the helm of a postal operator?

Ahmed Fahour: There are two main factors that made this job irresistible to me. First, Australia Post is an iconic national institution. It is the oldest continually operating organisation in Australia and it is repeatedly rated as one of our nation’s most trusted brands.

So, I was genuinely enthused by the prospect of working to secure this Post’s long-term future. And second, I love a challenge. I think my strong suit is in leading business change.

With the generational change that is happening in the global communications market, you couldn’t find a more challenging environment than a postal business right now.

How has technology changed the Australian communication landscape?

About 20 years ago, Australia Post had a 100-per-cent market share of written communication with approximately three billion letters annually. There was no SMS, no such thing as email.

Today, there are four billion letters floating around in Australia but also 18 billion SMSs and 400 billion emails. So, we have gone from a 100-per-cent market share of written communication to almost 1 per cent without even mentioning the number of Facebook or Twitter postings. When you add all of these up, we have gone from being the dominant communication method to the smallest.

How will your organisation deal concretely with this sea-change in communication?

The new strategy focuses on three areas. The first is that we will continue to invest in our letters business as letters will continue to be an important part of our business and society, despite changes occurring in the way the latter communicates.

Letter mail must be a self-sustaining business. However, we have to be aware of revenues decreasing in that area and our cost structure has to be aligned to our revenues.

We have to be careful when it comes to demand management because our competitor – the email – is largely for free.

The internet is the letters business’s worst enemy but it is actually our parcels business’s best friend. We are gearing ourselves up to take advantage of this e-tailing world and be the deliverer of products.

Today in Australia, nearly two out of every three domestic parcels that are shipped because of home shopping are delivered by Australia Post.

What about your online offerings?

The third element of the strategy is that everything we do physically, we ought to do digitally. We have this great trusted brand with an awesome distribution network, with 4,500 retail shops scattered throughout the country.

So, we are looking to continue to drive the availability of products and services in our retail shops, while also offering a range of online and over-the-telephone services that match our physical offerings.

How do you guarantee the existence of your physical network as you expand your online offerings?

Our physical network is at an exciting stage. We have three key initiatives within the retail network. One is to sell more communication products and services, so we are working closely with local communication partners, like mobile network providers.

We see another big growth area in identity and government services. We also do identity checking, where we have a trust-based system that allows us to do know your- customer work for government and businesses.

Thirdly, we are a financial-services platform. We allow our customers to deposit and withdraw funds from those accounts, do foreign exchange and take out insurance among others.


Full interview

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