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As the US's top mailman, Casey delivers

By Rushworth M. KidderStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 11, 1986


`YOU don't really need to know how to cancel a stamp.'' Albert V. Casey, a garrulous Bostonian who talks with his hands and who once turned around the fortunes of a deficit-ridden airline within a nine-month period, is reflecting on his present position: the nation's postmaster general.

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``I was with the airlines for 11 years,'' says Mr. Casey, who retired last year as chairman and chief executive officer of American Airlines, ``and I never learned how the airplanes go up in the air.''

His knowledge of the job is a point on which he is somewhat sensitive -- especially given the shortness of his tenure. In an interview here last Friday -- one of only a handful he has given since the end of his first week in office -- he reaffirmed his intention to leave the United States Postal Service (USPS) Aug. 15, barely eight months after having been sworn in Jan. 6. He plans to take up a professorship at the business school at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Casey's critics accuse him of being an ``instant expert'' -- a man who swept into office after the USPS board of governors had summarily dismissed the previous postmaster general, Paul N. Carlin, and who immediately launched a wholesale reorganization. They say Casey's 2,100-position shake-up, which went into effect this past weekend and is the subject of a major newspaper advertising campaign this week, has come dangerously fast.

``It's hard to learn a $30 billion business in a couple of weeks,'' says Michael Cavanagh, a Washington-based consultant on postal matters, ``and then put the decisionmaking process into high gear simply because you know you're going to leave.''

But Casey's supporters, who are legion, credit him with doing what Mr. Carlin seems not to have done: make tough decisions fast, to put the 783,000-employee USPS -- the largest business organization in the nation -- onto a sound footing after last year's disappointing $251 million deficit.

``Casey has a boldness about him that you'd never get from a traditional career employee [with the USPS],'' says Van H. Seagraves, publisher of the Business Mailers Review, a fortnightly newsletter. ``He is liked very much by top postal managers,'' Mr. Seagraves adds, ``because he makes decisions quickly.''

On one point both sides agree: His internal reorganization of the Postal Service is the most sweeping since 1970, when the Postal Reorganization Act turned a sprawling, tax-guzzling bureaucracy into a self-supporting, government-owned business.

While he refuses to take credit for this year's brisk financial upturn -- attributing it largely to a growing, noninflationary economy and to several labor practices put into effect before he arrived -- he does admit that the picture has brightened considerably. He predicts a year-end surplus in the range of $400 million to $425 million.

So what's the secret of his successful stint at the helm?

``There's no mysterious, wonderful, new thing here,'' says Casey, who has worked for such large corporations as Southern Pacific Railway, the Railway Express Agency, and the Times Mirror Company, after receiving his MBA from Harvard. ``It's just the application of standard corporate principles and practices.''

To help guide the board of governors in its search for his replacement, he wrote a paper for it titled ``Observations Regarding the Postmaster General.'' In it, he says, ``I laid down the strengths of character, the business experience, the type of person for this job.''