When Donald Lander retired at age 55 in August, 1980, one of the first things he did was to start looking for a new job. After a 36-year career in the auto industry—the last 14 months of which he spent as president of Chrysler Canada Ltd.—Lander was pushed aside by Lee Iacocca, the headstrong new chairman of Detroit-based Chrysler Corp., who was sweeping out the old guard in a successful effort to restore the fortunes of the near-bankrupt international auto giant. An affable bulldog of a man, Lander bowed to Iacocca’s request to leave quietly. But he says that he had no intention of settling down to a quiet life and that he was looking for a challenge—a job that many Canadians still view as impossible: running the nation’s muchmaligned post office.
But in 1981, former Toronto Transit Commission chairman Michael Warren was given the top spot at the Crown corporation, Canada Post Corp. And it would be five years before Lander moved into the president’s office himself. In the meantime, he decided to return to the auto industry to face another challenge: he
moved to Northern Ireland to help flamboyant auto engineer John De Lorean fulfil his dream of building a state-of-the-art sports car.
The rugged Lander was a logical partner for the high-flying De Lorean. Lander was born in Oshawa, Ont., on Aug. 2, 1925, in what he
describes as “the shadow of the General Motors plant.” And like many other young people in Oshawa, he joined the company soon after completing high school. He left General Motors to serve in the Canadian Air Force for two years during the Second World War and then returned to the corporation’s marketing division. In 1959, he jumped to the competition and spent 21 years with Chrysler in Canada, the United States and Europe.
After Iacocca moved him out, Lander joined De Lorean’s ill-fated car company as president and chief operating officer. He recalls: “They were looking for somebody to actually put it into production.” But De Lorean’s dream—and Lander’s challenge—ended when the financially crippled company folded in 1982 under a tidal wave of bad publicity. Then, De Lorean g was arrested on charges of cong spiracy to sell cocaine but was £ acquitted two years later.
Following the fiasco in Northern Ireland, Lander returned to Cana-
da. And in 1984, Michael Warren
interviewed Lander for another job at the post office. Warren said that he wanted a man with Lander’s operations and marketing talents as second in command to handle postal operations. And after Warren announced his resignation from Canada Post in July, 1985, Lander was appointed interim president and, later, president by Perrin Beatty, then the federal minister responsible for postal affairs.
But, unlike Warren, Lander said that he had no interest in playing politics. He recalls that he virtually hid for the first few months, learning the 60,000-worker operation “from the inside out.”
Despite Lander’s inhibitions about public speaking, he is personally outgoing and energetic in smaller groups. He also has a reputation for not pulling punches when things go wrong. At the daily morning gathering of senior officials in the darkened conference room on the seventh floor of postal headquarters in Ottawa, Lander has often vented his anger over problems that he felt should have been avoided. Said one manager: “He will tear a strip off someone until there is nothing left, then build the guy right back up again.” For his position at the head of one of the least popular institutions in the country, he is paid between $189,000 and $221,400 annually along with bonuses worth about 25 per cent more.
Bald except for a snow-white fringe, a conservative and impeccable dresser, the 64-yearold Lander has been married to Dorothy Balmer for 42 years and is the father of four grown children. Lander says that he has not thought about a second retirement at all and notes that his contract with Canada Post expires in 1991. He is too busy—and enjoys too much—doing what Canadians have described for decades as the impossible job.
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