If nothing else was going on at Rogers Communications Inc. right now, you could understand chair Edward Rogers getting worked up about poor performance.
Canada’s telecom industry is a fishbowl. It’s easy to compare operating results across all the players, particularly between Rogers and arch-rivals BCE Inc. and Telus Corp. Rogers named Joe Natale as chief executive officer four years ago, and continues to trail peers on key metrics in its wireless business, such as sales growth, revenue per user and subscriber churn.
Edward Rogers was correct when he said on Monday there’s “room for improvement” in Rogers’s long-term performance. The company’s stock-market valuation is significantly less than those of BCE and Telus. As part of the family that controls the company founded by his father, Ted Rogers, the chair would be justified in reviewing the CEO’s leadership. If these were ordinary times.
However, as we all know, Rogers is on the cusp of an extraordinary achievement.
Mr. Natale is the author of Rogers’s planned takeover of Shaw Communications Inc. for $26-billion, including debt. If approved, the once-in-a-generation transaction will make Rogers the national platform that Ted Rogers always dreamed it would be.
The Shaw takeover requires the federal government’s blessing. Bureaucrats in three different arms of government need to be assured they are entrusting essential Canadian infrastructure to safe, stable hands.
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By pushing plans to replace Mr. Natale, a familiar face in regulatory circles, with former chief financial officer Tony Staffieri, Edward Rogers is putting the Shaw transaction at risk. It wasn’t surprising to hear the majority of Rogers directors opposed a change in leadership, including other members of the Rogers family. The shock was that this scheme got any traction at all.
As chair, Edward Rogers’s timing couldn’t be worse. Recall the federal Liberals staging an unsuccessful coup against leader John Turner before the 1988 election, infighting that all but handed Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives a second majority. That’s how misguided this crusade looks.
Recall, as well, that Mr. Natale spent the past 18 months running Rogers during a global health crisis. Customer service, equipment installation, marketing campaigns, all normal operations had to be reinvented. As chair, should Edward Rogers focus on pandemic performance or what’s to come?
Rogers reports financial results on Thursday, numbers that will reflect an economy that’s reopening. In a report published on Monday, analyst Drew McReynolds at RBC Capital Markets said, “We expect Rogers to be the biggest beneficiary of the uptick in industry wireless activity.”
If the Shaw deal goes through, Mr. McReynolds projects the telecom company will move from worst to first on major operating metrics. RBC Capital Markets forecasts Rogers would increase wireless revenue by 7.3 per cent in 2022, well ahead of rivals, while revenue per customer and churn would match or exceed BCE and Telus’s results.
Edward Rogers is 52. He spent two decades in operating roles at the company before becoming deputy chair in 2009, then chair in 2018. There’s a tradition of founders naming sons as CEOs at cable and media companies – succession played out this way at Shaw, Cogeco Inc., Quebecor and now-defunct Canwest Global Communications. However, the Rogers board has consistently chosen to look outside the family for executive leadership.
In 2007, business writer Caroline Van Hasselt published a book on Rogers Communications called High Wire Act. She talked to Edward Rogers – then head of the cable division – about his future role in the company, and he said, “I’d like to have a shot at running it.”
Ms. Van Hasselt also asked Ted Rogers for his take on performance from a son who was then in his mid-30s. Ted Rogers said: “Edward is doing a great job but he needs to mature. He’s like a good wine, he needs some time to mature.” By kicking off an ill-conceived leadership battle at a crucial juncture in his company’s history, Edward Rogers is showing the wine still needs more time.
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