Why Russian Post’s Most Successful CEO Was Sidelined

Rules of Engagement

Nikolai Nikiforov, head of the Mass Media and Communications Ministry that oversees Russian Post, said the company’s growing presence on financial services markets and preparations for privatization meant the time had come for a change in leadership.

“It’s important to have a CEO who has experience working for a large monopoly, as well as in the banking sector,’’ he said.

But given Strashnov’s successes at Russian Post, it is little surprise his exit was met with concern in Russia’s business community. Some of its prominent figures see an investigation into his finances as a pretext for pushing him out of the company.

The scandal began in March, when the Investigative Committee opened proceedings into whether the former CEO illegally received “salary and bonus’’ payments.

Investigators claim that Irina Lapteva, a Communications Ministry official, signed a contract in 2014 that gave Strashnov a massive one-time bonus of 95.4 million rubles ($1.58mln).

But there are those who have jumped to Strashnov’s defense.

“Both the Communications Ministry’s leadership and Strashnov agreed that the size of the bonus stipulated in the contract was standard,” says analyst Nikita Krichyovsky. “The fuss was deliberately exaggerated as a pretext to oust him. Everyone understood this from the very beginning.”

“Strashnov substantially improved the quality of service of what was not too long ago an awful service,” Pavel Vlasov-Mrdulyash, director of the Moscow communications and marketing company E-Generator, wrote on Facebook.

Was it fair that Strashnov, who had volunteered for the impossible task of reforming the huge, Soviet-style company, should receive a large bonus that his employer, the Russian state, had agreed on?

“As a taxpayer, my opinion is ‘yes’” Vlasov-Mrdulyash wrote. “The man did excellent work and has a right to be adequately compensated for his work — in accordance with market rates.’’

On the Defensive

In the days since his departure, Strashnov has embarked on a media offensive. In an interview with RBC, he was eager to defend his legacy at Russian Post citing modernization and new financial services as successes.

But, “the main achievement,” he said, “is that in the course of two years Russian Post is now profitable and doesn’t require state subsidies.”

In the same interview, Strashnov said it was his inability to wrangle political backing, not the investigation, that led to his exit. “I didn’t have the necessary state public support and political sponsorship for the transformation of Russian Post.”

But others said Strashnov should have exercised greater caution.

“A manager at a ‘state company’ should not forget that ‘state’ comes first, and ‘company’ comes second place,” Sergei Aleksashenko, former deputy chairman of Russia’s Central Bank, told The Moscow Times. “This segment of the economy has its own rules of engagement.’’