Rico Back leaves the job at Royal Mail after agreeing his departure with the board
Royal Mail’s chief executive Rico Back quit today after two years in charge marked by battles with unions over efforts to restructure the postal service.
In a surprise departure, the 66-year-old German businessman has agreed with the board to step down with immediate effect and will leave the company on August 15.
Hamburg-born Mr Back founded and ran the company’s German arm GLS for almost three decades before taking over as group chief in 2018.
But Mr Back – dubbed ‘the Flying Postman’ because he commutes to Britain from Switzerland – attracted criticism for running Royal Mail from his £2.3million home overlooking Lake Zurich during the crisis, having left the UK after the lockdown.
It comes as Royal Mail revealed that revenue from UK parcels, international and letters dropped by £22 million in April when compared to the same month last year.
Mr Back will be replaced by a duo of Keith Williams, who becomes interim executive chairman, and Stuart Simpson, who will be the temporary chief executive.
Mr Back attracted criticism for running Royal Mail from his £2.3million home in this apartment block overlooking Lake Zurich during the crisis, having left the UK after the lockdown
Chairman Keith Williams said: ‘Rico Back has made a significant contribution to the evolution of our business over his 20 years with us, particularly in building our international parcels business and developing our group strategy, which recognised the urgent need for change to create a sustainable business for the future.
‘On behalf of the board, I would like to extend my thanks to Rico and wish him well in the future.’
Rico Back: Career of the £647,000-a-year flying postman
Rico Back, 66, founded and ran Royal Mail’s German arm GLS for almost three decades before taking over as group chief in 2018.
He was appointed the first managing director of German Parcel in 1989, before establishing the European-wide firm General Parcel in 1992.
Seven years later he led the sale of this to Royal Mail, and by 2002 a uniform brand called General Logistics Systems (GLS), was established.
The Hamburg-born businessman became known as ‘the Flying Postman’ because he normally commutes to Britain from Switzerland each week.
The married father-of-four used to spend his weekends at a luxurious £2.3million home overlooking Lake Zurich, before returning to Britain to work during the week.
But when he flies to the UK he covers the costs himself, including those of his London accommodation.
He took over as group boss from Dame Moya Greene in 2018, receiving £6million for changes to his contract. He was paid £647,000 last year but can earn up to £2.7million.
Mr Back had promised a £1.8billion pound programme last year to transform Royal Mail into a sustainable, profitable operation by 2024.
But that turnaround plan has since been delayed by labour unrest and the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus crisis.
Mr Back said: ‘It has been a privilege to lead a company that is so much a part of UK life at this crucial time in its history.
‘I am proud of what I, together with our dedicated and loyal team, helped to build in Royal Mail and GLS.
‘I look forward to seeing Royal Mail transform into a parcels-led, international delivery company that continues to touch the lives of millions across the world.’
The company also said today that costs rose by £40million, driven by overtime and agency resource costs due to coronavirus-related outlays.
Royal Mail said it would provide another update on measures to put the business on a sustainable long-term path along with full-year results on June 25.
Mr Back has attracted criticism for running Royal Mail from his home in Switzerland, having left the UK after the lockdown.
Critics had said Mr Back, dubbed ‘the Flying Postman’ because he commutes to Britain, was too far away to effectively run Royal Mail and called for him to resign.
Mr Back has been working from his £2.3million family home, a luxury penthouse overlooking Lake Zurich.
The father-of-four, who took over as Royal Mail boss two years ago, usually travels by air to the UK for the working week and returns to the property during weekends.
A view of Lake Zurich from the road outside the apartment block where Mr Back, 66, lives
But after the postal service’s London office was shut on March 24, it is understood Mr Back returned to Switzerland and has remained there.
He took over as group boss from Dame Moya Greene in 2018, receiving £6million for changes to his contract.
He was paid £647,000 last year but can earn up to £2.7million.
Dame Moya oversaw the privatisation of Royal Mail in 2013 and also settled a long-running dispute on pay, pensions and a shorter working week for employees.
Critics have questioned whether he could effectively run Royal Mail, which employs 140,000 staff, while being partly based abroad.
However Mr Back and Royal Mail had defended the arrangement, saying he would be in the UK every week or ‘as and when requested’.
When he flies to the UK he covers the costs himself, including those of his London accommodation.
Postman Neil Martin talking at a distance to the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall after receiving a letter addressed to postal workers from them at Birkhall on May 10
Three weeks ago, Royal Mail said it had halted all Saturday letter deliveries until further notice as it continues to suffer from staff shortages.
The move has meant people can now end up waiting two days for their post as letters already do not come on Sundays.
However the majority of parcels have not been affected by the service cutback.
Letters that have to be signed for as well as tracked items and those sent by special delivery are still being delivered on Saturdays.
The service restriction came after union leaders encouraged postmen to call in sick rather than risk catching the virus on their rounds.
Royal Mail workers have been designated as key workers to keep deliveries going during the pandemic.
In March, the Communication Worker’s Union lobbied for deliveries to be cut back to just three days a week with homes receiving post every other day – but the plan was not implemented.