Smooth Succession Up North

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Today (assuming you read this on July 4, ha!), people in the United States celebrate the 229th anniversary of declaring independence from Britain.

Three days earlier, Canadian cable kingpin Ted Rogers was celebrating two lesser-but-interesting anniversaries.

On July 1, 1985, Rogers Communications Inc. entered the wireless phone business in Canada, ushering it in with a phone call between the mayors of Toronto and Montreal. Rogers is the biggest cell-phone provider in Canada now.

And 10 years ago on July 1, Rogers first offered up high-speed Internet service, or so the 72-year-old chairman said last week.

So naturally something had to be timed for July 1 of 2005. It was Rogers introducing home phone service for the first time — an area where Rogers, with the country's biggest cable-subscriber count, actually trails other Canadian MSOs.

Rogers (the company and the chairman) had a press conference last Wednesday in Canada that reporters could dial into from the States, to discuss the phone business — and to announce the chief's retirement date, apparently for the first time.

It made for a nice, old-fashioned cable-succession story — a break from the tales of U.S. patriarchs getting sentenced to the federal pen or divorcing their cable businesses from their CEO sons.

Rogers said he's not interested in staying on as CEO after his contract expires — in three years. He's recently hired a COO, Nadir Mohamed, to run both the cable and wireless operations, and Mohamed's seen as the CEO in waiting, according to UBS Investment Research.

Rogers was in fine form, enjoying it when a reporter asked about his future plans.

He said he might be like Bill Gates, who now calls himself Microsoft's chief software architect. “I'd call myself chief futurist or something like that.”

He said the corporate transition — which also includes two children in the business, cable chief Edward Rogers and strategy VP Melinda Rogers— was well underway.

And then he said something few U.S. cable moguls at public companies would say.

“I'll be frank with you,” Rogers said. “This has been built as an entrepreneurial company, and now we are trying to change it into an industrial company. One where we have far greater stability of share price. We don't have the huge swings. We have increasing profitability. We have a paying down of debt. We have increasing dividends. Not extreme but reasonable. I think all the shareholders would like that, and certainly my family would like that, whether I'm here or not here.”

Stability of share price, U.S. cable chiefs will own up to. Not sure about industrial, though.

Rogers also talked a lot about how the Rogers Home Phone, launching first in the Toronto area, would be priced in a “rational” way. When asked at the press conference if rational meant “higher” or “lower,” Rogers cut someone else's long-winded answer short by saying, “Higher.”

That's something else U.S. cable chiefs can get behind, retiring or not.

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