Rogers family matriarch Loretta Anne Rogers, the longest-standing director of the Toronto-based telecom and media conglomerate that she co-founded alongside her late husband, Ted, died on Saturday at the age of 83.
As Ted’s closest confidante, Ms. Rogers helped to guide decision making at Rogers Communications Inc. during its period of rapid expansion under her husband’s leadership, and served as a bridge between family members.
Her passing raises questions about the company’s control as Rogers seeks to complete its contested $26-billion takeover of Calgary-based Shaw Communications Inc., and follows a tumultuous boardroom battle that erupted last fall and pitted Rogers family members against one another.
Ms. Rogers backed her daughters Melinda and Martha, as well as a majority of the company’s independent directors and its CEO at the time, Joe Natale, in a dispute that began when her son, Edward Rogers, the company’s chair, attempted to oust Mr. Natale, citing the company’s lagging stock price.
Ms. Rogers had initially supported her son’s push to replace Mr. Natale with the company’s long-standing chief financial officer, Tony Staffieri. But she later said in court documents that Mr. Rogers had misled her about Mr. Natale’s performance. At a board meeting in late October, Ms. Rogers moved a successful motion to remove her son as chair.
The power struggle ultimately landed in a British Columbia court, which handed Mr. Rogers a victory that allowed him to replace five of the company’s independent directors without a shareholder meeting. The new board then reinstated Edward as chair and fired Mr. Natale, replacing him with Mr. Staffieri.
The passing of Ms. Rogers leaves an empty spot on the 10-person advisory committee to the Rogers Control Trust, which steers the wireless giant through its ownership of 97.5 per cent of the company’s voting Class A shares. It is unclear how, or whether, that spot will be filled.
In addition to the Rogers children, committee members include Loretta’s nephew David Robinson, who recently joined the Rogers corporate board; Ted’s childhood best friend, Toby Hull; long-time Rogers lieutenants Phil Lind and Alan Horn; and Toronto Mayor John Tory. Mr. Rogers chairs the advisory committee.
Rogers Communications is still working to gain regulatory approval for the Shaw takeover, which was announced more than a year ago. The Competition Bureau – one of the two regulators whose signoff is required – is attempting to block the merger of Canada’s two largest cable companies. The deal also requires approval from the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.
Martha Rogers, Loretta’s daughter, announced her mother’s death in a tweet on Saturday, saying “a beautiful soul left us today. She was a one-of-a-kind spirit who spread love like wildfire.”
She added that the family will soon provide a list of her mother’s preferred charities, to which mourners will be asked to donate instead of sending flowers.
The family said in a statement that it is “profoundly saddened by our mother’s passing.”
“We are grieving together for an amazing woman who held love and compassion in her heart, kindness in her soul and who possessed an incredible strength of character. We plan to honour and build upon her many invaluable contributions in business, charity and community,” the statement said, adding that the family is asking for privacy during this time.
In April, during the telecom’s most recent annual meeting, Mr. Rogers thanked his mother for her “enormous contribution” to the company over five decades as a director.
Ms. Rogers was the daughter of John “Jack” Roland Robinson, the First Baron Martonmere, a Conservative British MP who served as Governor of Bermuda. Mr. Robinson married Maysie Gasque, an American heiress to the Woolworth department-store fortune, and together they had two children, Richard and Loretta. A skilled painter, Loretta attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts and graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in fine arts.
She met her future husband, Ted Rogers, in 1957, at a party her parents had thrown in her honour at the Robinson family’s winter getaway in the Bahamas. She later teased her husband that he spent most of the night discussing politics with her father, according to Ted’s biography, Relentless: The True Story of the Man Behind Rogers Communications, co-written with Robert Brehl.
After a six-year courtship, the couple was wed on Sept. 25, 1963, at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, in London. Soon after, Ms. Rogers persuaded her father to advance her $450,000 from her inheritance to fund her husband’s business ventures. The investment made her a co-founder and earned her a seat on the board of the fledgling cable empire.
The pair adopted their first child, Lisa Anne Rogers, in 1967, and then had three more children: Edward Samuel Rogers III, Melinda Mary Rogers and Martha Loretta Rogers. Edward, Melinda and Martha all serve as directors of the company and are members of the advisory committee to the Rogers Control Trust. Lisa sits on the advisory committee but not on the board.
Ted Rogers, a bold entrepreneur who took on massive financial risks to build Rogers Communications, died of congestive heart failure in 2008.
Rogers Communications said in a statement Saturday that, after her husband’s death, Ms. Rogers “devoted herself to keeping his vision alive and making Rogers the absolute best it could be.” She died peacefully in her home while surrounded by family, the company said.
Ms. Rogers served on the boards of several foundations, including the University Health Network Foundation, the Bishop Strachan School Foundation and the Canadian Lyford Cay Foundation. She also made donations that established the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research, the Loretta A. Rogers Chair in Eating Disorders at Toronto General & Western Hospital and the Ted Rogers Family Chair in Heart Function at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre.
Rogers Communications is currently in the midst of negotiations with Quebecor Inc. about the Montreal-based media conglomerate acquiring Freedom Mobile, Canada’s fourth-largest wireless carrier, which is currently owned by Shaw.
Rogers has vowed to divest Freedom, which has customers in Ontario, Alberta and B.C., in order to satisfy concerns from regulators, who fear the Shaw takeover would otherwise deprive Canada of a strong fourth wireless competitor.
In a recent interview with The Globe and Mail, Quebecor’s chief executive, Pierre Karl Péladeau, said he has “the highest amount of esteem for the Rogers family.”
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