After 20 years at Ralph Lauren, top exec returns to Seychelles to head postal services
Buisson was appointed as the CEO of Postal Services by President Ramkalawan in December. (State House)
(Seychelles News Agency) - The Seychelles Postal Services (SPS) has a new chief executive, Mariella Buisson, who was appointed by President Wavel Ramkalawan recently.
Buisson, who has a law degree, worked for 20 years with American designer fashion firm Ralph Lauren in the UK. Before return to Seychelles, she held the post of senior director of finance and operations at the company.
SNA met with the new CEO to trace the journey of her career, the recent return to her tropical island home and find out more about her plans for the postal services.
SNA: Please tell us a little about yourself and your professional life before your appointment as CEO?
MB: I went to Cascade School and later attended NYS [National Youth Service in Seychelles]. I finished my studies in the UK, where I studied law. I have always had an affinity for business, customer experience and innovation. Even as a student, I worked in businesses that gave me exposure to sales and customer services.
My career started in retail with Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Ralph Lauren. Up to now, the defining moment in my career happened when I joined Ralph Lauren. It was the most forward-looking company that propelled my career. I worked for Ralph Lauren Corporation for 20 years. It has shaped how I approach work and how I view the role of a business in the global community.
I started off on the creative and innovation team and worked my way into the store expansion business, where I travelled a lot to work on expansion projects and managed a team of over 100 employees based in different countries.
It's easy to say that most of my professional life to date has been in one company. Having been there for 20 years, you had an obligation to ensure the new kids coming in were well looked after and challenged. We were encouraged to make decisions and be responsible and mentor each other.
SNA: How did you learn that you were a candidate for the post?
MB: I applied for the role on Jobo [local jobs website]. I received an email responding to my application and was excited to hear that I was a candidate. I saw it as an opportunity to share my knowledge and experience and work in a different retail and logistics environment. There are synergies in what a post office and a retail store do. I saw the role as a challenge to develop an existing business further. The Seychelles Postal Services it is a retail and logistics business whereby customers are paying for services and products.
SNA: Since you took over as head of the Postal Services, what observations have made so far?
MB: Post offices have suffered greatly during the ongoing pandemic. The many lockdowns and lack of flights to bring the mail in and out of countries have caused backlogs and delays to services.
SPS has a lot of potential to develop and the various teams are willing to make those changes happen, however, communication between the teams was an issue. This is something we are addressing.
Work ethic is different to what exists in the private sector and we are changing this by being more open and visible about what we do and allowing our teams to take responsibility and ownership of their tasks. We also want to encourage training and knowledge transfer, which is vital to keep the teams engaged and excited. Having always worked in the private sector, I am learning to navigate in the public sector and connect with the decision-makers. The pace is also different and slower at times.
|One of our key priorities is to digitalise SPS to make our processes easier and faster and to serve our customers more efficiently. (Salifa Karapetyan, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
SNA: What are your plans for the Seychelles Postal Services?
MB: The Seychelles Post Office is one of the most iconic buildings in Victoria and also possibly one of the oldest businesses in Seychelles. Existing since the 1800s it has kept our islands in communication with the rest of the world. SPS is still a key business and offers a vital service to the country. However, with the developments in communications technology and private courier services, the post office has somewhat been left behind.
One of our key priorities is to digitalise SPS to make our processes easier and faster and to serve our customers more efficiently. We are automating our behind-the-scenes processes, using technology supplied by the Universal Postal Union (UPU) and developing our own add-on systems. We are developing a point of sale (POS) system for our retail service at the counter and in our shop. We also want to start taking card payments and go paperless in a few years.
We are building a new website that will be the gateway to our services and give our customers more information on what we do and offer. That is information on pricing for postage, online customs declaration forms, online payment for shipments, mail redirection service, virtual mailboxes, online payment for post boxes and an e-commerce site allowing direct access brands using the post office for shipment and also inviting local businesses to use our platform for their selling and shipping needs.
With all these exciting ideas, we need to develop our teams to meet these challenges and put in place new ways of working. Changing the mindset on how we approach work is also key. We are also reviving philately and will be going digital with some of our old stamps to attract NFT stamp collectors. NFT stamps are digital stamps or artwork collected online and kept in digital portfolios.
We are looking to further develop our courier service to tie in with Express Mail Service (EMS), as well as explore digital addressing, as we have so many issues with delivering letters. Hopefully, in the future, we will be able to do door to door deliveries for parcels and small packets, and perhaps even collect items to be posted.
SNA: How will your extensive experiences with Ralph Lauren help you at the Seychelles Postal Services?
MB: I learnt a lot at Ralph Lauren - all the fundamentals of running a company, with the starting blocks being a positive and engaged team, supporting each other, transferring knowledge, positive communication, excellent customer service and informed decision making.
I will share those experiences with the teams and encourage the adoption of ways of working that allow for a wholesome team spirit rather than a fragmented approach that instils a blame culture. We need to work to earn, hence we need to work in the right way.
We spend at least 8 hours of our awake time at work so we need to communicate and work with each other in the right way too. We are introducing performance-based appraisals and will monitor productivity. Having said that, we want the appraisal to be objective and a discussion between the parties, with the employees being encouraged to define their goals based on their role and set their own targets to be reviewed on an ongoing basis.
|New employees have come in and they are very efficient at clearing the backlog for parcels. (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY|
SNA: The number of parcels coming into the country is increasing so how are you working to ensure the shortest delay between receiving the parcel and delivering it?
MB: It is great news for us that packages are increasing. It means the customers trust our service. New employees have come in and they are very efficient at clearing the backlog, so we are currently in a good place.
We have a set timeframe in which to deliver to customers from the date of arrival. We are looking at improving it. The time an item is held by customs is not counted in that delivery window, as we don't have any jurisdiction over items held by customs.
Customs also have a job to do and it is becoming increasingly more complicated for the shipment of items crossing borders. We ask customers to follow those procedures when sending and receiving items.
Post offices use hubs for shipments, meaning that an item has to go to an international hub before reaching its final destination. When those hubs are closed, we need to find other means to ensure items still reach their final destinations. This is not always straightforward as it requires negotiation with other operators and if we get things wrong, we risk delaying the shipment, getting charged for using the wrong hub, or having the shipment returned as a missent and having to re-send it again.
We would like to encourage customers to use the post office more for their shipments as we are rebuilding ourselves after the pandemic. Private couriers are not subjected to the same regulations as us, as their shipments are classed as cargo and not mail and they also have their own networks. We rely on commercial airlines and have to pay fees to those airlines which are way higher than postage fees.
SNA: The Seychelles Postal Services is always extremely busy around holidays. How do you plan on getting the required manpower on the team?
MB: We work with students and temps, encouraging them to see the post office as a future career. The post office is a logistics retail business, and we need to change how we view it. Letters will eventually die out due to technology and parcels or small packets will replace them outright. As such, post offices need to adjust to e-commerce to capture the online shoppers and deliver efficient services to match courier companies but at more affordable prices.
The issue we face here is that we cannot deliver parcels door to door. We also want to build a network of postal locations based on a franchising system. For those who have travelled, you will have noticed that post offices are part of retail stores and supermarkets. We are looking to do this and would love to hear from current and future store owners that might be interested. Our current network is limited to two post offices on Mahé, two on Praslin and one on La Digue. We should ideally have more. Obviously paying rent is not ideal for us as we need to cut costs, but that doesn't mean we can't expand in other ways.