He was a mentor to David Sutherland, who rose to key operating jobs and became Mr. Phillips’ successor as Ipsco CEO. “He did not suffer fools very well,” and was very demanding, Mr. Sutherland says. Someone like Mr. Phillips does not accomplish what he did “without a lot of confidence and a large ego, but very little of what he did was for Roger. It was for the company, the community, the city, the country.”
“When I’ve got a point that needs badgering, like the Bank of Canada’s monetary policy, I’ll be out there badgering,” Mr. Phillips once said. “But I don’t go around acting aggressive just for the hell of it.”
His retirement in 2002 was a surprise to many, but he had earlier signalled his intent. He did not believe that a former CEO should sit on the company’s board and hover over the new leader.
In the big steel consolidation of the past decade, the competitive strengths Mr. Phillips had ingrained in Ipsco made it a takeover target. In 2007, a Swedish company bought it for almost $8-billion, and a year later sold chunks of the operations to two Russian firms. Mr. MacKay says the sale was bittersweet for anyone involved with the company, but “you do the right thing for shareholders.”
Mr. Phillips settled into a busy retired life, as he pursued genealogy, and sailed in places like Last Mountain Lake, a 95-kilometre-long finger of water north of Regina. Mrs. Phillips has been a force in the local arts community, often using her legal training to help arts agencies organize their affairs.
Mr. Phillips continued his interest in public affairs and in 2006 donated $1-million to create the C.D. Howe Institute’s first endowed chair, the Roger Phillips Scholar in Social Policy.
Mike Percy, then dean of the University of Alberta business school, would look forward to Mr. Phillips’ visits as one of the school’s executives in residence. In his talks with students, he would refreshingly slice through management-speak to offer real-life instruction on everything from strategy to labour relations. “There was not a lot of bafflegab,” says Mr. Percy, now a U of A professor.
Six years ago, he was diagnosed with cancer in the eye; by 2011, it had spread to the liver. In his quest for answers, he had discovered that his boyhood friend, Johnny Eberts, now known as Jake and a film-finance guru with such credits as Chariots of Fire and Driving Miss Daisy, was afflicted with the same cancer and was consulting internationally with some of the same specialists. The two kids from Arvida were reunited in their common search. When Mr. Eberts died last November, the Phillipses attended his memorial service in Montreal
Mr. Phillips continued to serve as director of some major companies, including Canadian Pacific, where, as part of the established board, he became embroiled in the bitter proxy battle with a U.S. activist shareholder. Friends say he was fully engaged in the contentious debate, which led to a turnover of the board and Mr. Phillips’ departure last year.
Besides Ann, he is survived by Andree, a physician in the U.S. Northeast, Andree’s husband, also a doctor, and their two children, as well as two sisters.
Ann Philips says her husband had an outstanding life that was fully, enthusiastically lived. No one would have an argument with that.