Industry's North Star

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Edward Samuel “Ted” Rogers, the tireless Canadian entrepreneur who built that country's biggest cable and wireless-services provider over a nearly 50-year career, died last week.

Rogers, who was 75, died of congestive heart failure at his home in Toronto. He had been hospitalized in October with a pre-existing heart condition.

Rogers Communications, his diversified media and communications company, had 2007 revenue of $10.1 billion (Canadian) and 29,000 employees.

“We wish to express our deepest sympathy to [his wife] Loretta and all of the Rogers family for this loss,” Rogers Communications chairman and acting CEO Alan Horn said, in a statement. “Ted Rogers was one of a kind who built this company from one FM radio station into Canada's largest wireless, cable and media company. … He will be sadly missed.”

The Rogers board of directors will form a committee to lead a search for a new CEO. Horn will continue to serve as acting CEO and lead the company's office of the president.

Industry analysts don't expect the company to miss a step in the wake of its founder's death. Rogers Communications chief operating officer Nadir Mohamed — whom Ted Rogers promoted to the position in 2005 — tops the short list of expected CEO candidates.

“It's always a major event when you lose a great entrepreneur like Ted,” said John Henderson, Scotia Capital managing director of telecom and cable equity research. “But I'd say Ted has kind of taken a lesser and lesser role, certainly in the last year … I would never want to say it's a nonevent, but he made it as easy a transition as he could.”

Rogers grew his company into a Canadian leader in wireless telecommunications, cable TV and broadband, broadcasting, publishing and other businesses. The company today serves 7.7 million wireless subscribers, 2.3 million basic-cable subscribers and 1.6 million high-speed Internet customers; operates 52 radio stations; and publishes 70 magazines.

“Ted was an absolute legend, and deservedly so,” said Greg O'Brien, editor and publisher of CARTT, which covers Canada's cable and media industries. “Not just what he did for the company, but for the country with the creation of wealth. It's incredible what he accomplished in his life.”

Rogers was admired south of the border, too. “The entire U.S. cable industry today mourns the loss of our friend, Ted Rogers, a great leader and visionary in cable telecommunications whose impact is felt well beyond his beloved Canada,” National Cable & Telecommunications Association CEO Kyle McSlarrow said, in a statement. “We will truly miss his passionate leadership.”

Rogers Cable was the first MSO to offer cable-modem service, according to CableLabs CEO Dick Green. “We are proud that Ted was a member and an integral part of the CableLabs governance for 20 years,” Green said in a statement. “We have lost a special person and a great telecommunication pioneer and entrepreneur.”

In the early 1960s, Rogers started Rogers Radio Broadcasting Ltd., which acquired the nation's pioneer FM station, CHFI. After he approached Canada's fledgling cable operators about carrying CHFI on spare channels, Rogers became interested in the business and decided to enter cable.

In 1967 Rogers was awarded cable-TV licenses for areas in and around Toronto, Brampton and Leamington. In the following decade, Rogers Cable became the first in the industry to expand past 12 channels. In 1980, Rogers purchased Premier Communications Limited, which almost doubled the company's cable subscribers and made Rogers the largest cable television company in Canada.

The company in 1985 entered the wireless-phone business, competing with the incumbent telcos, with the launch of a national cellular-telephone network in Canada.

But not all of Ted Rogers' bets paid out. In 1989, he took on Bell Canada in the long-distance phone business, purchasing 40% of CN/CP Telecommunications (later Unitel). It turned out to be the most expensive mistake of his life: When Rogers Communications exited the debt-saddled Unitel in 1995, it took a $500 million loss.

In his autobiography, Relentless: The True Story of the Man Behind Rogers Communications, published in September by HarperCollins, Rogers titled the chapter on Unitel “A Bloody Disaster.”

The company isn't likely to ever embark on such risky ventures again, O'Brien said: “Ted's past 'bet-the-farm' actions are probably gone.”

In addition to diversifying into media and publishing, Rogers acquired the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team in September 2000 and in 2004 bought the Rogers Centre (formerly SkyDome), which is the largest covered indoor-entertainment complex in Canada. In July 2001, Rogers Media acquired Sportsnet, which operates four regional sports networks spanning the country.

Rogers is survived by his wife, Loretta, whom he married in 1963; their four children, Lisa, Edward, Melinda and Martha; and four grandchildren: Chloe, Edward, Jack and Zachary.

Two of his children joined the family business: Edward is president of Rogers Cable Communications and Melinda is senior vice president of strategy and development for the parent company.

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