- Published: 02 December 2008
- Written by Editor
Ted Rogers: A Titan and a Visionary
It is with great sadness that Rogers Communications Inc. announces the death of company founder Edward Samuel "Ted" Rogers, a visionary communications industry pioneer and a titan in Canadian business. He was 75.
Mr. Rogers, known for his relentless drive, built Rogers Communications into a Canadian leader in wireless telecommunications, cable television, broadcasting, publishing and more. Mr. Rogers' name is synonymous with innovative, high-quality communications products across Canada.
He leaves his wife, Loretta; four children: Lisa, Edward (Suzanne), Melinda (Eric) and Martha; and four grandchildren: Chloe, Edward, Jack and Zachary.
In October 2008, Mr. Rogers' autobiography (written with Robert Brehl) entitled Relentless: The True Story of the Man Behind Rogers Communications was published by HarperCollins. It quickly became a best-seller. True to form, the book is candid and honest from a legendary entrepreneur who talks about his successes and his failures; and takes the reader beyond the brand and inside the man.
Ted Rogers belongs to a select group of sons and daughters whose achievements exceeded those of their famous fathers and mothers. His father, Edward Rogers Sr., was hailed in newspapers around the world in the early 20th century as a "boy genius" and he went on to invent the electrical plug-in radio and work on other communications devices that are now part of our daily lives, from television to radar.
Mr. Rogers Sr. died young in 1939 at age 38. "I was five years old when he died," Ted Rogers said. "And from then on my mother, Velma Taylor Rogers Graham, instilled in me a great capacity to work and rebuild what had been lost and never, ever give up."
That he did. Rogers Communications Inc. owns Canada's largest wireless telecommunications company, the country's largest cable company, the Toronto Blue Jays and Rogers Centre (formerly the SkyDome), 52 radio stations, several television properties including five CityTV outlets, five OMNI multicultural stations, Rogers Sportsnet, the Shopping Channel and more than 70 consumer and trade magazines.
Forbes magazine once called Mr. Rogers "Canada's most obsessed-about media mogul" and a "Lion in Winter." But for an eternal optimist like Mr. Rogers, there really was only Spring and Summer - and the next big deal he could do or the next great innovation he could bring to market; from FM radio and crystal clear cable TV reception in the 1960s to cellular phones in the 1980s to today's high-speed Internet to the home and wireless email, video and web browsing to the handset.
In naming him Man of the Year in 2000, Toronto Life magazine dubbed him "Mr. Toronto". In only a matter of months, Ted Rogers had stepped up to the plate and saved the city's beleaguered major league baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays, and, along with wife Loretta, donated $25 million to the University of Toronto (the school's largest-ever personal donation) and $10 million to Ryerson University. In May 2007, he gave another $15 million to Ryerson.
"Education can remake a country, a city, can make it ... a different place" in only one generation, Mr. Rogers told Toronto Life.
Over the years, he and Loretta also donated tens of millions of dollars to charities such as the Toronto General Hospital, Toronto Western Hospital, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Woodstock General Hospital, Sheena's Place and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he had had heart surgery.
In 1990, Mr. Rogers was made an Officer of The Order of Canada and in 1994 was inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame. In 2002, Mr. Rogers was the first Canadian inducted into the Cable Hall of Fame in Denver. Also in 2002, he and Loretta were named Outstanding Philanthropists of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Over the years, Mr. Rogers was awarded eight honorary doctorates from North American universities.
A graduate of the University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall Law School, he was a lawyer by training, but an entrepreneur by nature. (Even at the end, his business card read: "Ted Rogers, Senior Salesperson.")
While in law school in 1960, he bought CHFI radio with an $85,000 loan and a market with fewer than 5 per cent of listeners owning FM receivers. Today, CHFI is Canada's biggest radio station.
"I may have van Gogh's ear for music, but I could see crystal clear that FM with its superior sound was the future for radio," he once said. With so few FM radios in Torontonians' homes, Mr. Rogers decided to buy FM receivers in bulk and then sell them at cost to increase CHFI's audience. During these hectic times, he would often send his secretary to law class in his place to take notes. He was called to the bar in 1962, but never practiced law.
Through all the successes of his life, Mr. Rogers retained an enigmatic streak. He could be charming to a fault or unleash a legendary temper. He never wanted to see his family lose the company as it did after his father's death, yet he almost lost it several times in his own lifetime by taking big gambles. He feared dying young like his father, but was consumed by work and put strain on his health, even working from the hospital bed more than once. He had no time for sports, yet became one of the most influential men in Canadian sports through the Blue Jays and his company's involvement in professional and amateur tennis.
Former Ontario Lieutenant-Governor Hal Jackman was a long-time friend and former school classmate of Mr. Rogers. In one interview, Mr. Jackman offered the most succinct, and perhaps apt, description of his personality: "Ted is not laid back."
Mr. Rogers' ancestors were Quakers from New England who immigrated to Canada in 1801 and settled north of Toronto in Newmarket.
Entrepreneurship ran through the family. His great-grandfather, Samuel Rogers, started a fuel oil distribution company that he later sold to Imperial Oil. Samuel's brother, Elias, built a large coal company that bore the Rogers name. (Foreshadowing Ted Rogers' philanthropic streak, Samuel Rogers co-founded the Hospital for Sick Children on College St. in 1892.)
Ted Rogers' father, Edward S. Rogers Sr., was born in 1900 on the cusp of a great communication revolution. "Though he died when I was only five years old, he is obviously the force behind my life-long interest in broadcasting and telecommunications," Ted Rogers said. Besides bringing the world the alternating current radio tube, the senior Mr. Rogers founded CFRB (Canada's First Rogers Batteryless) radio station in 1927.
Ted Rogers was born on May 27, 1933. He was sickly and his parents were told he may not survive. (Ironically, over the course of his business life, a similar prognosis would be touted more than once about his company, and each time it would be incorrect, too.)
After Mr. Rogers Sr. died with little capital built up or life insurance, all the companies bearing his name were either sold or shuttered. At age 7, Ted's widowed mother sent him to boarding school, first to Quebec then to Upper Canada College in Toronto. He stayed in boarding school until age 17 and these years helped define his life. He was often lonely and became a loner in many ways. But he also used these years to hatch entrepreneurial schemes to separate the other boys from their money; often landing him in hot water, including oft-repeated canings.
(During these years, his mother re-married and John Graham became more than a step father to Ted. Until his death in 1998, Mr. Graham was a calming force in Mr. Rogers' life who was relied upon for sound business counsel.)
In the 1950s, Mr. Rogers moved into his first real commercial endeavours, starting with a music business: supplying orchestras (including Peter Appleyard); renting sound systems; and then taking Polaroid pictures of couples. He would cap off the evening by offering to do a tap dance routine for an extra $10.
In 1957, Mr. Rogers met Loretta Anne Robinson at a party in Nassau. She was the daughter of Maysie and Jack Robinson, a British Member of Parliament for 33 years who would later become the Right Honourable Lord Martonmere, governor of Bermuda. The first time he met his future father-in-law they talked politics on the doorstep for half an hour before Mr. Rogers even got into the house. (Mr. Rogers was a life-long Conservative and one who was devoted to the populist John Diefenbaker throughout The Chief's often tumultuous years in politics.)
Mr. Rogers' entrepreneurial streak sometimes worried Jack Robinson. Upon the couple's engagement, he offered this toast: "What's Loretta's is Loretta's; and what's yours is negotiable."
After the wedding, Robinson released funds from his daughter's trust for the couple to buy their home in Forest Hill in 1963. Upon doing so, he exacted a pledge from Mr. Rogers that the house would not be mortgaged to support his entrepreneurial endeavours.
After Lord Martonmere's passing in 1989, Mr. Rogers regaled audiences with stories about how "we've had triple mortgages on our home to meet payrolls and we dared not tell her parents!"
Though Mr. Rogers has left a strong and powerful company, it was not always easy. "Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart," he would say.
To underline that point, Mr. Rogers would tell audiences one of his favorite stories:
"One year, we just didn't have sufficient cash to pay all the suppliers for a period of time. So, after meeting payroll, I would put all the bills in a hat and keep drawing invoices until we ran out of money.
"Can you believe that some creditors didn't appreciate such innovation? Some would shout at me over the telephone. I often got a headache and asked them to stop yelling.
"With anger in their voices, they'd ask me what I would do if they kept yelling. 'Very simple,' I'd say, 'I won't put your bill in the hat next week!'
"Nobody sued - they all got paid with interest. No one in my lifetime has ever lost one cent in receivables or interest on a Rogers' account." No matter how many times he told the story, it seemed to delight both he and the audience.
In addition to CHFI in those early years, Mr. Rogers, along with the Eaton and Bassett families, had a piece of CFTO-TV, Canada's first privately-owned television station.
As his broadcasting business grew, a new technology caught his eye. In 1967, he entered the cable television business and the rest, as they say, is history.
Rogers pioneered cable television in the 1960s and 1970s with superior picture quality, more channels through converters and community and multicultural programming. (Innovation continues today with Rogers cable a North American leader in the development and deployment of high-speed Internet service as well as digital television, video-on-demand and cable telephony.)
In 1979, Rogers became Canada's largest cable company by taking over the much larger Canadian Cablesystems Ltd. and in 1980 purchased Premier Cablesystems in Vancouver to consolidate its cable presence. In the early 1980s, Rogers moved into the U.S. cable market and proved to be a leader among U.S. cable company peers. Rogers recorded a $1-billion profit when the company sold its U.S. assets in 1989.
By the mid-1980s, Ted Rogers was well into his 50s but he was not slowing down as so many men at that age do. Instead, he was speeding up.
To fund his expansion and innovation strategy, Rogers met in Beverly Hills with Michael Milken at Drexel, Burnham Lambert Inc. in 1983 and pioneered the high-interest corporate bond market in Canada.
Colloquially known as "junk bonds", this financing tool was bitter-sweet for Mr. Rogers. He despised the "junk" connotation and its implications on his company. In his later years, Mr. Rogers strived for an "investment grade" rating for his company, which he achieved. But there is little doubt many of the company's achievements would not have been possible without the high-interest corporate bonds.
Besides growing cable assets on both sides of the border, Rogers entered the wireless phone market in 1985 with partners Marc Belzberg and Philippe de Gasp� Beaubien to launch Cantel.
Unlike television, where the trend was from over-the-air to wired reception, Mr. Rogers envisioned that telephones were the exact opposite because of changing lifestyles.
Today that company, now called Rogers Wireless, is the largest - and fastest growing - wireless service provider in Canada, available to 93% of Canadians, with more than 7 million subscribers from coast-to-coast.
In 1989, Rogers jumped into the long distance business by purchasing 40 per cent of CN/CP Telecommunications (later Unitel). Things started out favourably with the 1992 Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission decision to open up the market that for a century had been a monopoly held by incumbent phone companies like Bell Canada.
But in the end, it was the most expensive mistake of Ted Rogers' life. When Rogers Communications exited Unitel in 1995, it had taken a $500-million loss. Fortunately, the company was big enough to absorb the loss without Mr. Rogers losing his company.
In typical, Ted Rogers style, he rolled up his sleeves.
"Ted will say things are brighter than they are sometimes and I'll know that's not true. They're not bright at all, but he thinks they are. That's his force," his long-time chief lieutenant and Rogers vice-chairman Phil Lind once said.
Within five years, Rogers got all the lost Unitel money back and $1 billion more by building up a new venture - Rogers Network Services - and selling it to AT&T Canada, which had taken over Unitel.
At age 60, Ted Rogers attempted his boldest move to date: a hostile takeover of Maclean-Hunter Ltd. In 1994, it was the largest takeover in Canadian communications industry history to that point. In the end, Rogers won the battle for the former "widows and orphan" conglomerate of cable, broadcast and publishing assets for $3.1 billion.
"Ted doesn't have a business life and a personal life - it's all one - he works 18 hours a day every day," Phil Lind said. "When we did the takeover of Maclean Hunter in 1994, we couldn't sit and enjoy it for a day. Ted doesn't rejoice in any conquest because he's always thinking - where will it lead? What's next? He knows events will overtake him if he doesn't overtake events."
This work ethic was legendary. He expected his management team to work just like he did. His personality and work ethic instilled tremendous loyalty.
Mr. Rogers could take a joke, and there are many cases where he could give as good as he got. One example involved fellow cable operator Jim Shaw in Calgary. The companies had a friendly competition on who could sign up the most Internet customers with the loser buying the winner a steak dinner. Upon losing, Mr. Rogers sent Mr. Shaw a live 1200 pound steer to his home with a sign on its back "As requested, a big STEAK".
By the mid-1990s, potentially the greatest threat to Rogers' cable assets arrived on the scene - the so-called "Death Stars" or direct-to-home satellite receivers that were small enough to fit almost anywhere and offered digital picture quality. Amazingly, instead of hunkering down into a bunker mentality, Mr. Rogers continued his "damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead" business approach.
During these turbulent times, the company made a misstep with the "negative option". This sales process required customers to alert the cable company if they did not want new services, instead of putting the onus on the provider to "sell" the new services. The practice was commonly used in many industries, but this time it created a major consumer backlash.
Rogers quickly reversed course within days of the outcry, but the public relations damage was done.
The late 90s were difficult years for Mr. Rogers and his company with the stock hitting an all-time low of $4.80 in 1998 and a debt that was worrying Bay St.
But, ever the optimist, Ted Rogers persevered; promising customers and investors new and exciting services. (Mr. Rogers ended every public speech with "The Best is Yet to Come.")
But, he didn't disappoint: High-speed Internet connections to the home; digital television; text-messaging, email and ring tones for mobile phones; and more all quickly arrived on the scene for Rogers customers.
Immediately into the new century, Mr. Rogers was back in acquisition mode. In 2000, he bought the Toronto Blue Jays, ostensibly with the break-up fee paid to Rogers Communications for the failed friendly takeover bid of Quebec's cable giant Videotron.
Then in 2004, Mr. Rogers really rolled up his sleeves and sharpened his pencil. Telus Corp. attempted a hostile bid for Microcell Communications and its Fido brand of wireless phones. This was a company long in the sights of Rogers. He believed Fido a perfect fit for Rogers Wireless because of similar corporate cultures and they were the only two wireless companies in Canada using the international-standard GSM technology.
The problem was that Rogers Wireless partner AT&T Corp. was blocking Rogers from riding in as Fido's White Knight. So, Rogers bought out AT&T for $1.8 billion and then paid $1.6 billion for Microcell Communications. It sounds a lot more simple than it was. Much like everything Ted Rogers did in business.
Today, Rogers Communications has annual revenue of $11-billion and it employs 29,000 Canadians.
Of his children, both Edward and Melinda have followed their father in the family business with each holding senior roles at Rogers. Edward is President of Rogers Cable Communications Inc. and Melinda is Senior Vice President, Strategy and Development at Rogers Communications.