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Ted Rogers: A Titan and a Visionary

    TORONTO, Dec. 2 /CNW/ - 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: Chloé, Edward, Jack and
    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
    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
    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
    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
Gaspé 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
    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
    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
    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.

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