When Louis DeJoy was appointed Postmaster General by the United States Postal Service’s Board of Governors in May 2020, he faced a monumental task.
The U.S. Postal Service faced record financial losses, service delays and significant staffing shortages due to COVID-19, amid a highly polarized environment in the U.S. Early in DeJoy’s tenure, the Postal Service itself became the center of protests that led to congressional committee investigations.
Speaking recently with Fuqua Dean Bill Boulding as part of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business’ Distinguished Speakers Series, DeJoy told the audience that what surprised him most when he became postmaster general was not the criticism, but the lack of understanding or concern at how dire the situation was at the Postal Service. “The fact of the matter is if we didn’t move quickly, we would be running out of cash in the next 90 days,” said DeJoy, noting “anything in public services comes with controversy today and you have to work through it.”
DeJoy, the founder and CEO of the successful logistics and freight company New Breed Logistics before his appointment, said he basically had two choices to prop up the financially struggling Postal Service when he came onboard -- “beg Congress for $70 billion to keep us going for a couple of years or come up with something, and I said, ‘Let’s come up with something.’”
The result, DeJoy said, was a 10-year plan, that established a path forward to help the agency right its financial ship and improve service to the American people and business customers.
In March of this year, Congress approved the most sprawling overhaul of the Postal Service in nearly two decades. “I am hoping 50 years from now we have a viable, productive Postal Service that serves the American people, and that was not the direction we were headed when I first got there,” DeJoy said.
Asked by Boulding how he managed to gain bipartisan support for the bill in both the House and Senate, DeJoy replied, “I did my job. I focused on my job, right? I focused on operating the U.S. Postal Service within the parameters of the law.”
“There’s a lot of policy talk on everything,” DeJoy continued. “But in the meantime, as people are debating policy … we’ve got mail to deliver, and we have costs to cover. We’re going down, and we need to straighten it out. I engaged with the unions, I engaged with the people, I engaged with the House and Senate members, I engaged with the White House, I engaged with everybody.”
“This is all about execution. It’s an operational service, at the end of the day this is what we do. We deliver mail and packages; it’s pretty straightforward. Let’s just do it. And that’s what I enjoy about it. I don’t spend much time to think about what’s going on in the House or Senate, this or that. I get to deploy my business and operational skills in a public service mission with a great leadership team and a great group of people that are committed to service. It’s inspiring.”
When asked by an audience member whether the Postal Service should be privatized, DeJoy answered with an emphatic no. “The USPS should not be privatized if you actually want to get mail to 163 million addresses six days a week. A big part of America would lose affordable mail service, plain and simple as that. … If you go up into Alaska, we are actually the way people get to eat and bathe. We probably lose $500 million a year doing business up there. We go to every single tribal town and so forth, we go into other parts of the country, that’s the only way they get their mail, communications, medicine.”
“The alternative is to not have that and … most of the members in the House and in the Senate have constituents who rely on the Postal Service and it would not happen. It would be such financial drain doing the non-profitable things serving America that it wouldn’t work.”
That work, he noted, ranges from delivering millions of COVID-19 test kits per day during the pandemic to carrying the mail by donkey to the Grand Canyon floor. “When a hurricane happens, we’re the first sign of getting back to normalcy. These people in these communities, our employees, their lights are out, they’re without water, and they come in to deliver the mail. And it begins to build into your commitment for the greatness of this institution and the ability to serve the public.”
Asked what advice he would give to the business students in attendance, DeJoy said simply: “Engage, and try to be consequential in everything you do.”