LAKEWOOD RANCH -- For Thomas Leavey, the postal service means more than just a walk out to the mailbox every afternoon.
The Lakewood Ranch retiree knows just what goes into making that envelope arrive safely and on time. It's a component of logistics he still prides himself on today.
Leavey spent nearly three decades in the U.S. Postal Service, where he worked his way up to assistant postmaster general before becoming the first American elected to head the Universal Postal Union, which oversees mail issues across the globe.
Now retired in Lakewood Ranch, Leavey serves as supervisor of his Community Development District.
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The Herald sat down with Leavey recently to discuss his career, the current state of the post office and the executive's Lakewood Ranch retirement.
Q: How did you get started in the post office?
A: After college, I took the senior level test from government agencies and got a very good offer from the U.S. Postal Service, where I started my career.
Q: What were your roles there?
A: I worked in the international department. We would regulate arrivals and represent America in the Universal Postal Union.
There were also the tech systems I would oversee. Basically we tried to improve postal service though technological advancements, which is a big thing. When you set up payments, you have to account for the other carriers, the cost of delivering the mail and claims. We set up these systems. The actual mail, sorting and dispatching, I was not responsible for.
I started a program with the postal inspection service to combat theft of the mail. There were about 30 people in that department. At some point, though, the sales of international products fell under me. We were making an effort to capture more of that business, and,
of course, our big competition was FedEx and UPS. At the time I was there, the volume was still growing, and the postal service was a big player internationally. There were also some diplomatic issues. We had to provide to Iran and other countries that were hostile to each other. Also the Soviet Union still existed and there were some problems there -- like residents not getting their mail.
I was personally involved in trying to devise solutions.
For a short stint, I was even comptroller of the Post Office, figuring out all of the finances. That was just a temporary six-month thing, but you can imagine the job, with the size of the Post Office budget. But my background was mostly in international.
Q: When did you step down from the Post Office?
A: I retired from the Post Office in 1995, when I received a letter from Colin Powell and the post master general thanking me for my service. I was then elected to the Universal Postal Union. We had a staff of 170 people there in six different regions of the world who were in charge of technical assistance. We had to deal with applications and regulations of the rules.
A lot of post offices around the world have financial services. Money orders are the primary ones we use in the U.S. The biggest bank in the world is actually the Japanese Post Office. So we had a lot of financial regulation, too.
One of the basics was the delivering of the mail. The government shouldn't interfere without proper jurisdiction. Most of the countries followed this.
Q: Did you always know you wanted a career in the postal service?
A: It was probably more by chance, I would say. I wanted to go into academia. Once I got into government services, I got more excited about a career there, but I never dreamed of a career in the postal service.
Q: Why did you decide to retire in Lakewood Ranch?
A: When I worked for the Universal Postal Union I was living in Switzerland. My wife is from France, so we also had a small condo there. We thought about France or Switzerland. We decided to come back to the states, and I was thinking about Florida, and I read some articles about Sarasota. So we came down on a vacation, liked Lakewood Ranch, and put an offer in on our house.
Q: What are your thoughts on the state of the post office now?
A: The electronic advancements is definitely a contributor. More people are using their computer for things they probably would have used physical mail for in the past. But there's still definitely an advantage of physical mail. Absolutely, the volume is down. There are proposals to close post offices in some communities, and that's going to continue to happen across the country. In some cases, I'm concerned it will affect the standard of the mail.
But the post office is still very viable.
Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @JoshSalman