Ted Rogers 1933-2008

The Canadian media pioneer dies of heart disease at 75.

Over the decades Ted Rogers ended every pitch to impatient investors — wondering when his debt-heavy media empire would turn a profit — with the words ‘the best is yet to come.’

On Tuesday, the Canadian media industry paused on news that the long journey for its most successful pioneer has ended.

Ted Rogers, who turned a tiny radio station into Rogers Communications, Canada’s largest and very profitable provider of cable TV and mobile phone services, died at his home surrounded by his family, aged 75.

The cause was complications from congestive heart failure, Rogers Communications said in a statement. Ted Rogers had a history of heart trouble and underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 1992. He went into hospital again this fall because of his heart, passing control of the company to Alan Horn, chairman of the board of directors.

Rogers Communications vice-chairman Phil Lind, who worked at Ted Rogers’ side for 40 years, praised his boss as ‘relentless’ in business, echoing the title of the cable baron’s recently released autobiography.

‘For us at CTVglobemedia, [Ted Rogers] was both a wonderful partner and very tough competitor. But at all times, he was a gentleman and his word was his bond,’ Ivan Fecan, president and CEO at rival CTVglobemedia, said in his own tribute.

With a business career that began with Upper Canada College and law school machinations, Ted Rogers eventually grew Rogers Communications to a point last year when the stock market briefly placed its value above that of arch-rival BCE.

The current fortunes of Rogers Communications, an empire built on debt and today throwing meaningful profits to happy shareholders owing to a successful convergence strategy, contrast sharply with those of BCE — where unhappy shareholders face the pending cancellation of a $36 billion privatization for fear of the post-transaction debt burden.

Ted Rogers’ use of junk bonds to fund his empire’s rise to fortune, and endless capital expenditures to build out his cable and wireless phone networks, made for a turbulent and yet loyal relationship between investors and controlling shareholder.

Earlier this year, Ted Rogers beamed with pride when he achieved yet another long-standing goal: Rogers Communications saw its debt rating raised from junk status to investment grade.

Besides the groups’ 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.

Rogers had an innate ability to spot potential in new media technologies at which competitors just scoffed. He bought Toronto radio station CHFI while still in law school when FM radio was still in its infancy.

He.pioneered cable TV beginning in the 1960s when others bet on TV from an antenna. Rogers, along with the Eaton and Bassett families, launched CFTO-TV, Canada’s first privately owned TV station. He entered the wireless phone business in 1985 with partners Marc Belzberg and Philippe de Gaspé Beaubien to launch Cantel, and during the 1990s competed head-on with BCE and others to offer high-speed internet services.

Some business forays were less successful, including a 1989 jump into the long distance phone business by acquiring a 40% stake in CN/CP Telecommunications (later Unitel), for which Rogers Communications eventually took a $500 million bath.

But, as ever with Ted Rogers, there were deals. The biggest included becoming Canada’s largest cablecaster with the takeover of Canadian Cablesystems in 1979.

In 1994, Rogers Communications reached a new plateau after it acquired rival cable, broadcast and publishing giant Maclean-Hunter for $3.1 billion. There was also a 2000 deal to buy the Toronto Blue Jays, and the same year a failed friendly takeover bid of Quebec’s cable giant Groupe Videotron blocked by pension fund giant Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec.

With his passing, Ted Rogers leaves behind a Canadian media empire with annual revenue of $11 billion and employing 29,000 Canadians.

He leaves behind two children, Edward and Melinda Rogers, each of whom have a hand in the family business and stand in line to succeed their father.

From Playback Daily