Rogers Communications Inc.’s RCI-B-T lead director was among the attendees at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago speech the day the former U.S. president was arraigned, after the telecom’s chairman previously apologized for a social-media post involving Mr. Trump, calling him a polarizing figure who “to many does not align at all with our values.”
Rob Gemmell is seen in news footage aired by NBC and CNN on April 4 from Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., where the former president delivered a campaign-style speech to a crowd of supporters hours after being charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.
The charges are related to Mr. Trump’s alleged role in co-ordinating hush-money payments to a porn star before the 2016 U.S. presidential election. He has pleaded not guilty.
The criminal case is one of several facing Mr. Trump, who is a candidate in the coming U.S. election. Others involve allegations that he took classified national-security documents from the White House after leaving office and that he attempted to interfere in the 2020 election. Mr. Trump has also been accused of inciting the violent Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
In the NBC footage, Mr. Gemmell is seen smiling and holding up his phone to capture Mr. Trump entering the room before delivering his speech.
Mr. Gemmell did not answer questions from The Globe and Mail about his visit to Mar-a-Lago. However, he described it as a “leisure” activity.
The company declined to comment. “We don’t have any comment to add on the personal activities of a board member,” said a statement sent by Rogers spokesperson Sarah Schmidt.
Mr. Gemmell’s appearance at the rally is not the first time that a Rogers director has been publicly associated with Mr. Trump. In 2021, company chairman Edward Rogers, his wife Suzanne Rogers and their two sons posed for a photo at Mar-a-Lago with the former president, which Ms. Rogers posted to Instagram.
The image, which Ms. Rogers captioned “A special way to end the night,” stirred up controversy, prompting two resignations from the advisory board to the Suzanne Rogers Fashion Institute at Toronto Metropolitan University, to which Ms. Rogers has donated $2-million over the years.
Ms. Rogers later issued a statement saying that she has no relationship with Mr. Trump and had never met him before that night. “Our family’s interaction with President Trump was mere seconds at the end of a dinner, as we were leaving. No political statement, on any policy, was intended by the photograph,” she wrote, adding that she posted it “without considering the false assumptions and implications that would be made about my personal beliefs.”
About a week after the photo was shared, Mr. Rogers sent an e-mail to the company’s employees apologizing for the post, which he described as a “total lack of judgment.”
In the e-mail, Mr. Rogers acknowledged that “many” employees had reached out to share their views on the post.
“We recognize that Trump is a polarizing figure and to many does not align at all with our values. Our family is deeply sorry that this post may have caused any of you here at Rogers to feel hurt or embarrassment,” reads the e-mail, which was obtained by The Globe.
It went on to say that the company’s values are based on “equality, diversity, inclusiveness and respect for all.”
“We are so disappointed that this mistake caused any of you to question our commitment to inclusion,” it read.
Richard Leblanc, a professor of governance, law and ethics at York University, says corporate directors are generally advised not to participate in activities that can cause reputational risk for the company. Mr. Trump is a good example because he is a “polarizing figure, Mr. Leblanc said.
“Normally CEOs, and certainly directors and chairs and lead directors are cautioned by companies to be very careful in treading into the public spotlight because it could invoke adverse inferences and reputational issues for the organization,” says Mr. Leblanc, editor of The Handbook Of Board Governance: A Comprehensive Guide For Public, Private, And Not-for-profit Board Members.
That’s particularly the case for large, public-facing companies such as Rogers, Mr. Leblanc said. The telecom and media giant has millions of cable and wireless customers and was recently in the spotlight on account of a lengthy regulatory review of its $20-billion takeover of Shaw Communications Inc.
Mar-a-Lago is a members-only club owned by Mr. Trump, who also has a private residence on the property. In August, 2022, the FBI searched the property and recovered boxes of classified documents in connection with one of the former president’s criminal cases.
Mr. Gemmell, a retired investment banker, supported Edward Rogers during a high-profile boardroom battle later in late 2021 that divided the Rogers family.
He took over as lead director after Mr. Rogers, with the benefit of a B.C. court ruling, purged five of the independent directors who had opposed his plan to replace the company’s CEO, Joe Natale, with its chief financial officer, Tony Staffieri, without holding a shareholder meeting. The new board then voted to fire Mr. Natale and replace him with Mr. Staffieri.
In addition to being lead director, Mr. Gemmell also chairs both the audit and risk committee and the corporate governance committee and sits on the finance committee, the executive committee and the nominating committee.
Prior to joining the Rogers board, Mr. Gemmell spent 25 years as an investment banker, most recently at Citigroup’s Canadian arm.
Until recently, Mr. Gemmell was chair of the compensation committee of Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. He withdrew his nomination just before the miner’s annual shareholder meeting earlier this year after the two major proxy-advisory services recommended that shareholders withhold their votes from Mr. Gemmell because of the company’s compensation practices.