Rogers Communications Inc. RCI-A-T has replaced its chief technology officer just days before the company faces scrutiny in Ottawa over this month’s nationwide shutdown of wireless and internet services.
Veteran telecom executive Ron McKenzie will take over responsibility for the systems that support the 12 million customers of Canada’s largest cellphone company. He replaces Jorge Fernandes, who joined Rogers just over four years ago from Vodafone Group PLC, where he was chief technology officer for its U.K. division. Mr. McKenzie was previously the president of Rogers for Business, the division that offers wireless and internet services to corporate clients.
After the network outage, Rogers chief executive officer Tony Staffieri vowed to make changes and additional investments to improve network reliability. The July 8 disruption outraged customers, prompted a review by a House of Commons committee and created new regulatory challenges for Rogers’ planned $26-billion takeover of Shaw Communications Inc. SJR-A-X.
The company updated its website on Wednesday night to reflect the management change. Rogers spokesperson Chloe Luciani-Girouard confirmed Mr. Fernandes’ departure and Mr. McKenzie’s appointment in an e-mail on Thursday.
Before becoming president of Rogers For Business, Mr. McKenzie led technical operations at Rogers for more than two years, overseeing installations, service, maintenance and technical support for both the wireless and cable divisions. He also led the company’s technical operations transformation during the pandemic.
In an open letter to customers last week, Mr. Staffieri apologized for the outage, which impacted the Interac debit system and left Rogers customers unable to access 911 services.
Mr. Fernandes’s departure follows executive changes that occurred after a dramatic power struggle at the company last year unseated then-CEO Joe Natale. Since taking over the top job last November, Mr. Staffieri has replaced the majority of Mr. Natale’s senior leadership team, including installing new heads for the wireless, cable and media divisions. Mr. Fernandes was one of the last holdovers from Mr. Natale’s team.
Mr. Fernandes is exiting the company just days before a Monday hearing in front of the House of Commons committee on industry and technology. The committee, which is made up of members of Parliament from all four major federal parties, will review the cause of the outage, its impact, as well as measures to prevent future outages, and report its findings to the House of Commons.
Mr. McKenzie, Mr. Staffieri and Ted Woodhead, the telecom’s chief regulatory officer, are scheduled to appear as witnesses on behalf of Rogers. Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne and Ian Scott, chairperson and CEO of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, will also address the committee on Monday, along with members of their teams and several telecom industry researchers.
Mr. Champagne’s ministry is one of the two federal regulators still reviewing Rogers’ proposed takeover of Shaw. Speaking at an event in Calgary last Friday, Mr. Champagne said the service disruption will be on the minds of regulators as they weigh the proposed merger of Canada’s two largest cable systems.
The Competition Bureau is attempting to block the takeover, arguing that it would result in higher prices and poorer service, particularly for wireless customers. Rogers has struck a deal to sell Shaw’s Freedom Mobile, Canada’s fourth-largest wireless carrier, to Quebecor Inc. for $2.85-billion in an attempt to address those concerns.
Bank of Nova Scotia analyst Maher Yaghi said the leadership change demonstrates that “Rogers is taking the situation seriously and looking to improve internal operations as the company prepares for a likely gruelling meeting” in front of the committee.
“We suspect some accountability to the major network failure that took place two weeks ago was unavoidable,” Mr. Yaghi wrote in a research note, adding that the committee is expected to grill Rogers executives on the level of compensation they are offering their customers and the network and operational changes that the telecom plans to make to prevent future outages.
The service disruption, which the company has said was caused by a coding error as part of a maintenance upgrade to the telecom’s core network, is the second major outage to affect Rogers customers in just over a year. In April, 2021, the telecom’s wireless services went down across the country for 16 hours. Mr. Fernandes said at the time a software update by Rogers’ supplier Ericsson caused the outage.
Mr. McKenzie has three decades of telecom and technology industry experience. Before landing at Toronto-based Rogers, he spent 10 years in Shaw’s executive team, including a stint as the Calgary-based telecom’s chief operating officer. He holds an electrical engineering degree from University of Toronto and has attended Harvard University’s telecom management training programs.
Mr. McKenzie has a “strong background to take over this key role” at this important time, Mr. Yaghi said.
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