Tony Staffieri’s first priority, as he takes the helm of Rogers Communications Inc. after a heated public battle for control of the telecom and media giant, is to close the $26-billion takeover of Shaw Communications Inc.
His next job will be to pay down the deal’s roughly $20-billion debt load.
Mr. Staffieri spent nearly a decade as the company’s chief financial officer and is known for his focus on controlling costs. He took over as interim chief executive officer this week, replacing Joe Natale, who was ousted after weeks of turmoil that erupted when chair Edward Rogers first attempted to make the leadership change in late September.
Now, Mr. Staffieri is faced with the task of convincing three regulators, including the Competition Bureau, to approve a deal that could eliminate Canada’s fourth-largest wireless carrier, Shaw’s Freedom Mobile.
He will also aim to improve his company’s lagging share price, said Robert Gemmell, a Rogers director who has backed Mr. Rogers’s recent efforts to overhaul the company’s management team. Mr. Gemmell was appointed lead director by the board, which was recently reconstituted by Mr. Rogers, who is also chair of the family trust that controls the Toronto-based telecom.
“During the most transformative, strategic transaction in the industry’s history, and certainly the most important in Rogers history, one of the important things will be the strength of the balance sheet and financial discipline,” said Mr. Gemmell, a former investment banker.
“We’re going to be adding a lot of debt to the corporation’s balance sheet, and one of the prime objectives ... will be to deleverage as quickly and as expeditiously and as optimally as possible,” he said.
But to achieve that, Mr. Staffieri will need to ensure stability in the company’s upper ranks.
Analysts have speculated that the drama that has engulfed the telecom and split the Rogers family could result in the departure of a number of senior executives.
Dave Fuller, the president of the company’s wireless division, said in court documents he did not wish to work for any CEO other than Mr. Natale. The Globe also previously reported that Mr. Rogers’s original plan involved a number of executives following Mr. Natale out of the company.
And Mr. Rogers had planned to install Robert Dépatie, a company director, as the president of the cable division back in September.
David Barden, an analyst at BofA Securities, said in a research note that Mr. Staffieri and Mr. Rogers have told him that “no other management changes are planned at this time in an effort to maximize stability heading into the Shaw merger.”
Mr. Gemmell said the company has a strong management team, and that Mr. Staffieri is sitting down with each high-level executive. “I’m very confident that as those discussions continue that we will continue to have a very strong executive leadership team,” he said.
Mr. Staffieri takes the helm as Canada’s largest wireless carrier is trying to turn the corner from the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a bigger impact on its business than on its peers, BCE Inc. and Telus Corp.
Rogers Communications was hit especially hard by plunging roaming revenues as travel halted. With the worst of the pandemic effects now behind it, the company is set to benefit from the easing of lockdown restrictions and the return of immigration, Mr. Barden said.
Mr. Staffieri took over the CFO role from Bill Linton in 2012. Before joining Rogers, Mr. Staffieri was a senior vice-president in the finance department at BCE and has also held the roles of CFO of the Americas for electronics manufacturer Celestica Inc. and senior partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Shortly after he joined Rogers, the company announced it was shedding more than 300 jobs. RBC analyst Drew McReynolds said in a note at the time that the job cuts were “indicative of the operational focus that the new CFO Tony Staffieri is bringing to the organization.”
Rogers has been plagued by high levels of turnover in the executive ranks, but Mr. Staffieri stayed through multiple CEO changes, reporting first to Nadir Mohamed, then to Guy Laurence and most recently to Mr. Natale.
Although Mr. Staffieri was appointed as interim CEO, the company said he is in the running to become the next permanent one.
“Given Mr. Rogers’s preference for Mr. Staffieri as CEO and his control of the company’s board, we can only surmise the outcome is likely to be a foregone conclusion,” Mr. Barden wrote.
The boardroom showdown at Rogers broke out after an inadvertent phone call between Mr. Natale and Mr. Staffieri exposed a plan to unseat the CEO.
However, Mr. Rogers’s attempt to oust Mr. Natale met resistance from his mother, Loretta Rogers, sisters Martha Rogers and Melinda Rogers-Hixon, and the majority of the company’s independent directors. Mr. Staffieri exited the company instead.
Mr. Rogers then replaced the independent directors who had opposed him with his own candidates through a written resolution. The company and Mr. Rogers’s mother and sisters opposed the move, resulting in a bizarre two-week period where the telecom appeared to have two competing boards.
But on Nov. 5, a B.C. judge sanctioned Mr. Rogers’s move to replace the directors without holding a shareholders’ meeting.
The reconstituted board attempted to come to an agreement that would see Mr. Natale remain at the helm, but talks broke down over a list of requests tabled by Mr. Natale that stipulated Mr. Staffieri would not rejoin the telecom in any capacity. On Tuesday evening, the board voted to remove Mr. Natale.
In an e-mail sent to staff on Thursday morning, Mr. Staffieri spoke of his admiration of the company’s late founder, Ted Rogers, and praised Mr. Natale for leading initiatives such as the deployment of fifth-generation wireless services, which Rogers launched before its competitors.
“I know that the last several weeks have been difficult, with changes to our board of directors and discussions of potential CEO transitions all very much in the public eye,” Mr. Staffieri wrote.
“Navigating change is never easy, but I have the utmost respect and admiration for the focus and commitment you have displayed through these past several weeks,” he added.
Your time is valuable. Have the Top Business Headlines newsletter conveniently delivered to your inbox in the morning or evening. Sign up today.