This article was originally published in 2009
Vision, hard work and attention to The Deal sums up the late Ted Rogers and his life-long quest to build a Canadian media empire.
Turning a tiny radio station into a cable and wireless phone giant over five decades required the industry pioneer to be as much salesman as strategist as he ran countless business deals across the goal line.
Melinda Rogers, senior vice-president of strategy and development at Rogers Communications, remembers her father as the consummate tactician.
‘He was thoroughly prepared, ready to move at a moment’s notice when the opportunity arose, and was able to think through various scenarios while negotiating to ensure that he got the outcome he was looking for,’ she recalls.
The story is told, for example, of Ted Rogers in 1994, having just acquired rival cable, broadcast and publishing giant Maclean Hunter, asking a major MH shareholder whether he’d take Rogers shares rather than cash when tendering his stake.
‘But Ted, you don’t pay dividends,’ the block-holder parried, looking to maximize his investment return.
‘Yes, that’s true. But think of the capital gains,’ Rogers countered, calculating his own risk and reward.
‘Ted, I’ll take the cash,’ came the final word.
Rogers Communications vice-chairman Phil Lind, who worked alongside Ted Rogers for nearly four decades, recalls a relentless work schedule that left no time to celebrate a successful deal.
‘It was just on to the next thing,’ Lind remembers. ‘If we’d acquired a cable company, [Ted] would say, ‘Have you called so and so? Have you called the 13 managers that you’ve taken over to tell them that we’re with them? Have you called the CRTC to ensure they’re happy? Have you called the shipping guy to make sure the trucks are painted?”
Persistence paid off. With a business career that began with Upper Canada College and law school machinations, Ted Rogers eventually grew Rogers Communications to a point in 2008 where the stock market briefly placed its value above that of longtime archrival BCE Inc.
Along the way, the media pioneer spotted opportunities others scoffed at, like buying Toronto radio station CHFI when FM radio was just getting off the ground, entering the cable TV business in the 1960s when the TV antenna was king, or pioneering the wireless phone and high-speed Internet access markets during the 1980s and 1990s against stiff competition from phone giant BCE.
More recently, Ted Rogers made his company the only GSM wireless phone provider in Canada, and the first iPhone provider as Rogers branched into smartphones.
Melinda Rogers insists her father’s abundant confidence provided a vital edge as he captured future technologies for Canadians.
‘Ted was always an eternal optimist, and he summed this up with his signature line ‘The best is yet to come’,’ she says. ‘It was not only his understanding of the potential in the early days of innovations such as FM radio, cable television, high-speed Internet, and wireless communications, but his confidence in himself and his ever-relentless perseverance that allowed him to succeed in much of what he did.’
Of course there were deals that soured. And the fact that Ted Rogers needed to bet the farm on more than one occasion often rattled bankers and investors.
But he could look on proudly as Rogers Communications went into the current economic downturn and rapidly changing media landscape with a strong share price and an investment-grade debt rating – and dividends.
Besides the group’s core cable and wireless phone businesses, Rogers Communications runs 52 radio stations, conventional and specialty TV channels that include five Citytv stations and Rogers Sportsnet, 70 magazine titles, the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club and its home, Rogers Centre.
May 27, 1933: Ted Rogers is born in Toronto
1938: Father, Edward Rogers Sr., inventor of the alternating current (AC) radio tube, dies at age 38, survived by wife Velma and five-year-old Ted
1956: Earns a BA from Trinity College at the University of Toronto, followed by a law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1961; called to the bar in ’62
1962: Pioneers FM radio broadcasting with CHFI in Toronto
1967: Secures cable TV licences for markets in and around Toronto, Brampton and Leamington, ON, and launches Rogers Communications.
1979: Rogers Cable TV acquires control of rival Canadian Cablesystems
1985: Becomes founding shareholder of Rogers Cantel, the national cell phone provider
1979-82: Rogers Communications acquires U.S. cable TV assets, which it sells in March 1989 for $1.58 billion
1991: Named an officer of the Order of Canada
1994: Rogers Communications acquires rival cablecaster and publishing group Maclean Hunter. The publishing, radio and TV assets are combined to launch Rogers Media
2000: Rogers Communications acquires the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club
2001: Rogers Communications acquires Sportsnet, the cable sports channel
2004: Rogers Communications bolsters its cell phone division, Rogers Wireless, with a series of acquisitions, including Microcell Telecommunications
2005: Rogers Home Phone voice-over-cable local telephony offering introduced
2006: Inducted into Canada’s Telecommunications Hall of Fame, with father Edward S. Rogers Sr.
Dec. 2, 2008: Ted Rogers dies in Toronto