Bpost CEO Thijs steps down over salary cap

Summary

CEO of the post office refuses second mandate that would have seen his salary almost halved

Post CEO will earn same salary as directors under new government policy

Johnny Thijs, CEO of the partly-privatised post office Bpost, is to step down in January, though he will continue working until a successor is found. Thijs announced his decision to the Bpost board yesterday. His mandate as CEO runs out on 6 January, and he has decided not to take up an option to renew.

Thijs’ decision comes after a decision by the federal government to cap the salary of the Bpost CEO at €650,000 from the beginning of the new mandate. That compares to the €1.1 million Thijs was paid this year, and comes as the latest step in the government’s campaign to rein in the salaries of the heads of government enterprises. When earlier this year a number of top jobs were re-assigned, among them the rail authority NMBS and air traffic agency Belgocontrol, the new occupants of the posts found their salaries capped at €290,000.

An exception was made, however, for those government enterprises where the company is quoted on the stock market, but the state is the major shareholder. Those include Bpost and Belgacom – whose CEO, Didier Bellens, was sacked after a series of outspoken statements.

Thijs, in his statement to the board, said the issue was not a financial one. He was stepping down, he said, because of “a lack of confidence and trust on the part of the majority shareholder” – in other words, the government.

His departure achieved the rare feat of uniting unions and bosses in a common cause. The socialist trade union ACOD, representing postal workers, said the departure comes too soon: “We are not prepared for this,” a spokesperson said. “We knew he would stop one day, but a month ago there wasn’t a hint this would happen.”

The unions and management at Bpost are preparing a new round of negotiations on pay and conditions. “We know talks with Thijs were bound to be hard, but we also knew he aimed to come to an agreement. What will the company’s future be under another CEO?” the union representative asked.

Meanwhile Karel Vinck, who himself has filled a number of top jobs during his career, including the NMBS, wrote to the minister for government enterprises, accusing Jean-Pascal Labille of approaching his task in a “purely ideological” way. “That might be a worthwhile approach for a health insurance fund, but is certainly is not right for a company which is subject to the laws of the market.”

Last week, it was revealed that the new CEO salary is the same as that earned by Bpost’s directors, whose pay is not affected by any changes in government policy.

Even Didier Bellens entered the discussion. “Where has the government’s common sense gone?” he asked. “They need to ask themselves if the capping of salaries is not at the cost of good management.” The issue of Thijs’ pay should have been one for the Bpost board alone, Bellens said. “The decision to cut his salary while at the same time praising him for his work is incomprehensible,” he concluded.

All sides agree that Thijs was an excellent manager at Bpost, and that his departure will be a blow. The man has been in the post since 2002, as the post office was facing diminishing volumes of mail with the arrival of widespread email. In just over a decade, he turned Bpost into a profitable company, partly privatised and listed on the stock market.

At the request of the board, trading in Bpost shares was suspended on Monday while the market awaited Thijs’ decision. When it returned, it was down 3.1%. The market will get a chance to show its reaction today as trading resumes.

Thijs will stay in post until his successor is found, and he will take part in the process of finding a replacement together with Bpost chair Martine Durez. 

Photo credit: Bpost

CEO of post office BPost Johnny Thijs has announced he will step down in January.

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