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A man walks by a Rogers store in Toronto. (Gloria Nieto for The Globe and Mail)
A man walks by a Rogers store in Toronto. (Gloria Nieto for The Globe and Mail)

With new chief, Rogers targets customers Add to ...

British telecom executive Guy Laurence won the top job at Rogers Communications Inc. with a focus on the customer.

That was just one of the reasons that Mr. Laurence, 51, a noted turnaround specialist with more than 30 years of experience in telecom and media, was named chief executive officer.

Mr. Laurence is known for mounting an aggressive overhaul of the United Kingdom’s oldest carrier, with painful cuts that transformed the company to compete with rivals.

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Now as the first external CEO hire at Rogers, hopes are high that he will be able to do the same at the Toronto-based cable and wireless giant, which is losing share to rivals.

The Rogers selection committee could see that Mr. Laurence, CEO of Vodafone UK Ltd., had done his homework, going so far as to conduct mystery shopping excursions to some Rogers retail stores and those of its rivals. He even took part in discussions on online blogs so he could ask participants about products and services.

He told committee members that while he liked the layout of the stores and the attentiveness of the staff, there was an opportunity to further differentiate the Rogers brand.

It is a challenge he has already tackled at the British unit of Vodafone Group PLC, an $11-billion telecom giant.

Rogers confirmed Thursday that its board chose Mr. Laurence to succeed Nadir Mohamed. He will take over Dec. 2, at the height of the holiday sales season, and analysts agree that revamping customer service should be one of his top priorities.

Mr. Laurence’s journey to Toronto from London, where he has headed Vodafone UK since 2008, was cloaked in secrecy.

Working with a recruiter, the Rogers search committee flagged about 30 potential candidates. It met with eight for first-round interviews by June, and then trimmed its list to three.

Rogers approached Mr. Laurence, rather than the other way around. Those interviewed in Toronto were put in different hotels so they wouldn’t run into each other. Mr. Laurence’s first interview was on a summer Saturday in downtown Toronto, to avoid a potentially suspicious absence from his London post.

That interview stretched over hours. When it was about to wrap up, Mr. Laurence closed his binder, looked across the table and remarked that “I would really like to have this job because it’s such a great challenge.”

That comment – and the enthusiasm of the moment – stayed with the search committee.

“It does not appear he has experience working with a family-controlled company. However, if the Rogers family had a role in selecting Mr. Laurence as a successor, we believe the transition will be smooth,” said Scotia Capital Inc. analyst Jeff Fan.

At Vodafone UK, Mr. Laurence has been known for taking extreme steps to change the corporate culture. He got rid of executive offices, eliminated the dress code, shook up the senior ranks, slashed costs, cut jobs and overhauled customer service with a new loyalty program.

Although Rogers has not announced any further management changes, analysts expect Mr. Laurence to shake up the executive ranks while continuing with chief financial officer Anthony Staffieri’s efforts to control costs and protect margins.

“Laurence clearly has extensive wireless experience in some of the most competitive markets in the world and has obviously dealt with regulatory challenges in the EU, which could be very useful in his new role,” wrote Dvai Ghose, a telecom analyst at Canaccord Genuity in a research note.

Rogers board member John Tory, a member of the search committee, said Mr. Laurence already has a proven track record of acclimatizing himself to different countries: “When confronted with that challenge before, going into the Netherlands … he seems to have picked up on the nuances of those markets quite well and posted outstanding results.”

“Rogers is an iconic and well respected company in a great country and I’m looking forward to joining,” Mr. Laurence, who was not available for interviews, said in a statement. “Its unique mix of wireless, cable and media assets offer a brilliant platform to provide innovative service to Canadians. I intend to build on the strong foundation established under Nadir’s leadership to compete and win in the market.”

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