The Rogers sign is seen atop the Rogers Communications Inc. headquarters in Toronto. The Canadian telecom giant is nearing the end of its search for a new chief executive officer, and a British telecom executive has emerged as the front-runner for one of corporate Canada’s biggest jobs. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)

Executive who rebuilt Vodafone pegged to be next Rogers CEO

The Globe and Mail

Rogers Communications Inc. is nearing the end of its search for a new chief executive officer, and a British telecom executive has emerged as the front-runner for one of corporate Canada’s biggest jobs.

Guy Laurence is at the top of the company’s short list because of his track record reviving the fortunes of a major U.K. wireless carrier and his experience in media. Since 2008, Mr. Laurence has been chief executive of Vodafone UK Ltd., the British unit of Vodafone Group PLC, where he earned a reputation as a turnaround specialist who made painful cuts but transformed the company to compete with aggressive rivals.

The next person to lead Rogers will take the helm of Canada’s largest wireless carrier with more than nine million subscribers.

The cable TV, Internet and media giant is one of Canada's most widely held stocks, and employed more than 26,800 people at the end of 2012.

To spark growth at the oldest wireless carrier in the U.K., Mr. Laurence shook up the company’s staid corporate culture.

He got rid of executive offices, eliminated the dress code, shook up the senior ranks, slashed costs and overhauled customer service to rejuvenate the company’s brand.

“I don’t believe in offices,” he told a British newspaper in 2011. “We decided to rewrite the way we worked. A lot of the Western way of working is broken and old-fashioned. It’s the tyranny of the office. We said we were going to break every rule we felt was no longer relevant to Generation Y. That’s how it started. Now it’s become a way of life for us.”

If named to the top job at Rogers, the Manchester-born executive is expected to bring that style of thinking to the Toronto-based communications company as it grapples with a slew of operational challenges on the cable, wireless and media fronts.

Rogers, which has not finalized its decision, declined to comment. Mr. Laurence did not return calls.

In February, the company announced that Nadir Mohamed would retire as CEO in January, 2014, about five years after taking over from founder Ted Rogers. By August, the company had put together a short list, which included Mr. Laurence and former executives from Telus Corp. and AT&T Inc.

Mr. Mohamed was an internal candidate who had won the respect of the late Mr. Rogers, but the company opted to conduct an international search for his replacement.

Any candidate from outside Canada would have to develop a quick understanding of the domestic market, where Rogers faces a federal government that is intent on increasing competition in the sector. He would also face the challenge of balancing the interests of the company and the board of directors with those of the Rogers family, which maintains voting control.

Some analysts say Mr. Laurence is a logical choice, saying he “probably feels passed over” after he was left in his position during a shakeup at Vodafone.

When Mr. Laurence took the helm of Vodafone’s U.K. operations in September, 2008, he had to transform a company past the heyday of its early growth. His top challenges were falling revenue and defecting customers.

His turnaround plan included a new customer-loyalty program and cost-cutting, including deep layoffs in 2009 and 2010. He had previously spent almost three years running Vodafone’s operation in the Netherlands and has served in other roles touching on marketing and content.

Mr. Laurence is well-versed in the challenges facing media companies, a prerequisite for the job at Rogers, given its vast publishing and broadcast holdings that include magazines such as Chatelaine and Maclean’s, conventional broadcasters City-TV and specialty channels such as its Sportsnet holdings. Before joining Vodafone in 2000, he worked for MGM Studios, Carlton Television and Chrysalis Records.

The new CEO will face a tough cable market as BCE Inc. ramps up its Fibe television offering in Ontario and Quebec. Services such as Netflix are also encouraging more Canadians to seek out cheaper alternatives to traditional television providers, a trend hurting cable companies around the world.