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Nadir Mohamed, CEO of Rogers Communications. Credit Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail (Anthony Jenkins/Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Nadir Mohamed, CEO of Rogers Communications. Credit Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail (Anthony Jenkins/Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

The lunch

A telecom philosopher? More a lover of sure bets Add to ...

Now, as CEO, he is staring down a new set of wireless competitors, chief among them Wind Mobile and the new wireless networks of Rogers' cable cohorts: Quebecor's Vidéotron unit in Quebec, which just launched service, and Shaw in the West, which will do so next year. Quickly, Rogers unleashed a new unlimited talk-and-text discount brand, Chatr Wireless, with pricing and market presence identical to Wind's.

But that's merely to head them off at the pass. Mr. Mohamed's real end game is to lead the Canadian industry on, very specifically, wireless data - from the bits surging through your smart phone in downtown Vancouver to the radio waves connecting your laptop in rural Ontario. "People should recognize ... we've built these networks over 25-plus years. And it will take a while for anyone to match them. It's going to be a long way from parity. No question." Though wireless penetration in urban Canada is inching ever closer to 100 per cent, Mr. Mohamed explains eloquently how new technologies and services still provide ample room for growth. Think devices that talk to each other, he says - for example, your laptop reading the meter on the side of your house, wirelessly, then paying the bill automatically.

Engaged, I explain that I see him as the resident philosopher among Canada's telecom CEOs, the one most likely to grip the lectern and become excited by ideas. He bristles, stares down at his food, then appears impatient to offer a rejoinder. I'm realizing that the term "philosopher" is probably an insult to the chief executive of Canada's biggest cellphone provider.

"We'll do deals," he says, the first hint of corner office bravado. For the 10 minutes after I use the term "a dramatic big bet" to describe Bell's $1.3-billion bid for CTV, Mr. Mohamed peppers his own speech with the word "bet." A bet on this, a bet on that. Rogers has already "made those bets" by buying up media properties like CITY-TV and Maclean's magazine, he says, which is true. But in the communications business, a bet is only risky if you can't see what lies ahead.

"When we bought Microcell, some people would say that was a big bet, but frankly it came from an intuitive understanding of where the business is going. We've been blessed to have a mix that others, we would argue, are replicating," Mr. Mohamed says. "The bets - you don't do bets for the sake of it. You make bets on the basis of where things are going.

"Increasingly, those bets are less about technology, and more on where the technology is taking us. And that's why, if I define 'the bet,' it's on this view that the world is going to be defined by experiences. And to make that happen, we'll make whatever bets are required." (As if to prove his point, the week after our lunch, Rogers purchases fibre-optic provider Atria Networks for $425-million and becomes the first major telecom provider to announce it's testing advanced 4G wireless networks that will be faster and more capable of handling millions of the next big gadget.) Suddenly, a hostess appears and taps him on the shoulder. He jumps. She whispers in his ear. "Uh oh, what time is it?" he asks.

It's 1:14 p.m. and we are half an hour over a poorly enforced time limit. With effusive apologies, he explains that an auditorium of 150 Rogers employees has been waiting about 15 minutes for him to show up and give a speech. I apologize for violating the edicts of his busy schedule. He's late, but that's okay. Mr. Mohamed's mind is trained - and valued for - thinking much farther into the future than a measly 15 minutes.

______

CURRICULUM VITAE

The man

54 years old.

Educated at the University of British Columbia.

The home life

Lives in Toronto.

Married to Shabin Mohamed; no children.

Hobbies include playing tennis, listening to jazz and watching cricket.

The biography

An Ismaili Muslim from Tanzania who began his career articling at Price Waterhouse in Vancouver, then rose through the ranks of various Canadian telecom companies to succeed Ted Rogers in 2009 as CEO of Rogers Communications.

Has steered Rogers through various challenges to its wireless dominance, and attempted to extend its national influence with various deals, such as buying naming rights to Rogers Arena (formerly GM Place) in B.C.

Favourite artists

Mott the Hoople and Miles Davis.

On the goal of a telecom company

"It's all about making it seamless for our customers, not only across devices, but across platforms. "

On the Canadian telecom market

"There's going to be more regional competition than national. ... If you look at the next few years - whether it's Quebec, the West, or Eastern Canada - regional variations and regional marketing will become important."

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