As is the wont of visionaries of his ilk, Ted Rogers obsessed about every aspect of the business empire he built from scratch, but none more so than over succession planning at Rogers Communications Inc.
Mr. Rogers’s own father, a successful entrepreneur and founder of CFRB radio, had died suddenly at 38, leaving his wife and only son in the lurch. Ted Rogers was determined to ensure his own children would not lose out on their rightful inheritance as he had.
But for all his ingenuity in succession planning, Mr. Rogers could not control for human nature.
In establishing a control trust to oversee the family’s controlling stake in Rogers Communications after his death, Ted Rogers may have believed he was minimizing the potential for a corporate family feud the likes of which Canada has rarely seen. But he should have known that differences of opinion and personality among his own children would eventually lead to bitter disagreements.
After all, that is more often the rule than the exception at family-controlled companies. Second- and third-generation family members only rarely possess the right stuff. In failing to designate a clear heir apparent among his four children, Mr. Rogers planted the seeds for the familial warfare now unfolding as his widow and offspring engage in a very public settling of scores.
While Ted Rogers gave son Edward Rogers the right to exercise sole control over the family’s 97-per-cent voting stake in Rogers Communications, he made it possible for the 10-member advisory committee that oversees the control trust to remove Edward from that position if seven members voted to do so. This was always bound to become an issue.
Edward Rogers, who once had designs on the chief executive’s job at Rogers, only grudgingly accepted being excluded from management by former CEO Guy Laurence in 2013. His recent attempt to replace Mr. Laurence’s successor, Joe Natale, with chief financial officer Tony Staffieri appears, at least in part, to be motivated by Mr. Rogers’s desire to exercise more operational control at the family company.
Mr. Rogers’s relationship with his sisters and fellow control trust committee members Melinda Rogers-Hixon and Martha Rogers was, by all accounts, strained before his failed power play. It now appears unsalvageable. The sisters, joined by their 82-year-old mother, Loretta Rogers, have now all but publicly disowned their brother.
Martha Rogers, a naturopathic doctor who has never held an executive position within the family company, has taken to trolling her brother on Twitter. She has referred to Philip Lind and Alan Horn, two long-time confidants of her late father who sit on the control trust advisory committee, as the “Old Guards who puppeteer Ed.”
“My father trusted [them] to ‘do the right thing’ & would have fired them in a heartbeat for making his biggest fear a reality,” Ms. Rogers tweeted on Sunday. “Money power & control have gone to their heads.”
Ms. Rogers, along with her sister and mother, issued a statement denouncing Edward Rogers’s move to unilaterally replace five Rogers directors who vetoed his attempt to oust Mr. Natale, saying his “actions demonstrate a disregard for good corporate governance and create a grave amount of risk for the company at an especially sensitive time,” as it seeks to complete the $26-billion takeover of Shaw Communications Inc. But the family feud appears rooted in much more than a simple disagreement over governance. At its heart, this appears to be a clash of values.
Like his father, a lifelong conservative, Edward Rogers leans to the right of the political spectrum. He and his wife created a stir in May when Suzanne Rogers posted a photo on Instagram of the couple and their children with Donald Trump after having dinner at the former U.S. president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. The photo was quickly removed after Trump critics piled on. But its trace remains indelible in the minds of many, including Martha Rogers. In one weekend tweet, Ms. Rogers, who appears to favour progressive causes, referred to the “Trump scandal 5 mos ago.”
Melinda Rogers-Hixon, who was also pushed out of management at Rogers when Mr. Laurence took over, has been more discreet in her public comments than Martha. But she appears no less committed to preventing her brother from dismissing current board members without holding a shareholders’ meeting, a procedure that could delay Mr. Rogers’s plan, if not derail it altogether. Barring a compromise, the conflict appears destined to be settled in court.
How it all plays out will determine who controls Rogers. Unlike Succession and Game of Thrones, the fictional TV series to which this family feud is being compared, the drama here is all too real. It is also exactly what Ted Rogers sought to avoid.
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