Why did the original LibanPost fold at the end of 2001?
The investors were upset at the slowness with which the agreement signed with the ministry of telecommunications was being implemented.
What was the state of the company when you took over?
There wasn’t a clear sense of direction. There wasn’t a clear vision.
What have you done since then?
We have improved quality, separated customer service and sales from distribution, renovated post offices and introduced a wide array of retail products – prepaid phone and internet cards, fuel coupons, newspapers magazines and maps, screensavers, stamps. We have also introduced a number of services, to make people’s lives easier. These include fax and photocopy facilities, as well as passport and residency renewal, military service postponement, and university degree certification services. We are trying to make LibanPost a serious intermediary between citizens and the various government departments, while making money along the way – because we are not a charity. We are a ‘front office’ for the government. Finally, we have invested in our 600 employees and in technology. We have invested about $1 million in computerizing the post offices. And recently, I received a telephone call from Fadi Abboud, head of the Lebanese Industrialists’ Association, asking me what we can do for Lebanon’s industrialists.
How serious are you about quality?
We are very serious about it. We have quality controllers who do nothing else all day long but ensure that the mail is delivered on time and that we don’t have issues with customers. We have a 24-hour National Control Center and a daily 9:30am meeting, during which we deal with any ‘incidents’ over the previous 24 hours. Any necessary amendments are made. We don’t hesitate to take drastic measures against our employees, if necessary.
What are your future plans?
In the near future we will be offering over-the-counter insurance products at our post offices – for cars, personal accident, things that are not complicated to sell and do not require medical exams. We just signed an agreement with the ministry of interior relating to the annual roadworthiness check, the renewal of drivers’ licenses, car registration etc. In addition, we plan to introduce two or three other services which should be announced soon. A few days ago, we established a new department within the company. It is responsible for printing, folding, and inserting into envelopes any publications. These are then immediately distributed. It is part of our plan to offer ‘complete solutions.’ We have reached an agreement with the ministry of telecommunications and the telephone company Ogero, under which we will print and distribute telephone bills. We hope this will prompt other utility companies and financial institutions, including insurance companies, to follow suit.
How much has LibanPost invested in these initiatives?
The printing and distribution initiative alone is worth $1 million. Along with the $1 million for the computerization initiative, that already makes $2 million in a year. That is significant. And it doesn’t include other things like digital map systems, which we are going to invest in. That is another couple of hundred thousand dollars.
What problems do you face?
Firstly, is very difficult to operate in a country that doesn’t have a proper addressing system. Secondly, many buildings do not have separate mailboxes for separate tenants. For LibanPost, this is catastrophic. The time wasted because of this is phenomenal. Mailmen have to knock on doors to deliver letters. Sometimes, it takes them 45 minutes to complete delivery to one building alone. Thirdly, not everyone knows of our services, and even if they do, they have to be induced to try them. We have an issue with the way we are communicating with the public and are in the process of addressing it.We can do better. We are finalizing a marketing and media program worth 2.5% of our projected turnover this year. I would like our media costs to one day reach 3%.
What is your projected turnover?
That’s not public information – several million dollars.
What were revenues for 2003?
They were 15% higher than for 2002, and revenues for 2002 were 12% higher than for 2001. And 2004 is planned to be 16% higher than 2003.
How about profits?
Our plan was to break even in 2004. We almost did that in 2003, so we’re slightly ahead of schedule. We now envisage a profit for 2004 – about 2.5% of revenues.
What influence does the government have?
All pricing is controlled by the government. We have some concerns about this. I understand that given the current economic environment the government wants to keep mail prices as low as possible. But from a private business perspective we don’t share those concerns. Also, LibanPost was supposed to be working in a monopolistic environment. Unfortunately, there are local Lebanese courier companies operating without licenses. They are competing with LibanPost in the profitable areas. It’s unfair.
Is there any theft of the contents of parcels opened by the authorities?
None at all.