News, Culture & Society

Royal Mail boss quits after battle with unions

Royal Mail’s embattled boss resigns following long-running dispute with workers that plunged company into crisis

  • Simon Thompson, who has been in charge for two years, will leave in October
  • Firm in ‘advanced stages’ of appointing a replacement 
  • International Distributions Services shares dropped 1.5%, or 3.4p, to 227.9p 

Troubled tenure: Simon Thompson

The Royal Mail’s embattled boss has resigned following a long-running dispute with workers that plunged the company into crisis.

The 507-year-old delivery firm’s owners, International Distributions Services (IDS), said Simon Thompson, who has been chief executive for around two years, will leave at the end of October.

His departure – which the Mail revealed was on the cards last month – follows the Royal Mail’s deal with the Communication Workers Union (CWU) to end a row over pay and working practices that saw posties walk out on strike for 18 days last year.

IDS said it was in the ‘advanced stages’ of appointing a replacement.

During the transition, chairman Keith Williams will provide ‘additional oversight and support’.

Thompson said: ‘I have been incredibly proud to lead Royal Mail during this crucial period in its 507-year history. The changes we have made, the infrastructure we have put in place, and the agreements negotiated with our trade unions mean that Royal Mail now has a chance to compete and grow. It is now the right time to hand over to a new chief executive to deliver the next stage of the company’s reinvention.’

IDS shares dropped 1.5 per cent, or 3.4p, to 227.9p.

Thompson’s departure draws a line under a volatile period that saw Royal Mail plunged into crisis by strikes as unions clashed with management over pay and working practices. Royal Mail was losing more than £1m a day and warned administrators may need to be called in if the situation did not improve.

A breakthrough came last month when the company and union bosses agreed a deal that included a 10 per cent pay rise for staff and a profit-sharing scheme.

CWU members will vote on the agreement. But the crisis left Thompson’s reputation in tatters and he faced fierce criticism from regulators and MPs. He was also humiliated during two bruising appearances before the House of Commons Business Select Committee earlier this year.

MPs accused Thompson of ‘either an unacceptable level of incompetence or an unacceptable level of cluelessness’ in his running of the business and of ‘intentionally or inadvertently’ misleading MPs when he said it was not his understanding Royal Mail had used data from personal digital assistants (PDAs) to track worker performance.

Labour MP Darren Jones, chairman of the business committee, wrote on Twitter yesterday that the criticisms levelled at Thompson and Royal Mail were ‘never personal’ and were ‘about holding decision-makers to account for their performance’. He added: ‘On that basis, it’s right that Simon Thompson has resigned but I wish him all the best for the future.

‘The culture at Royal Mail must change and I hope this new chapter will recognise the importance of every worker and focus on delivering a sustainable future for the business.’

Dave Ward, the CWU’s general secretary, also welcomed the news, saying: ‘Simon Thompson is one of the key individuals responsible for the financial crisis that Royal Mail has created over the course of the last year.

‘It is important that the next chief executive is somebody who understands the only way to turn around the fortunes of the company is by taking the workforce with them.’

Thompson joined the board of IDS as a non-executive director in 2017 before becoming chief executive in 2021. He has held roles at HSBC, Honda, Apple, Motorola and Ocado.

Aside from the long-running battle with its workers, Thompson’s tenure was also marked by a cyber attack in January that knocked out Royal Mail’s overseas delivery operations.