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Can next Rogers CEO focus on future without a foot in past?

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Nadir Mohamed's surprisingly short five-year tenure as CEO of Rogers Communications Inc. may have been a necessary link between the company's past and its future – one that, in retrospect, was probably destined to be short-lived. The company could require a very different kind of media/communications CEO for its next stage of evolution, and it could well be a bumpy ride for whomever takes on the job.

As the first CEO of the company not to be named Rogers, Mr. Mohamed must have encountered massive challenges taking over a company so steeped in the culture and personality of its founding family and, more specifically, his dynamic predecessor, the late Ted Rogers. Indeed, there were persistent rumours of internal friction between long-time loyal devotees to Mr. Rogers and the staunch supporters of Mr. Mohamed's vision for the company.

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While it's unclear whether this was a key factor in Mr. Mohamed's decision to depart (he insists he isn't being pushed out the door, and Mr. Rogers' heirs in the company's senior executive, Edward Rogers III and Melinda Rogers, have already declared they won't seek to succeed him), I have to wonder whether Mr. Mohamed has taken the company about as far as he could, given how deeply embedded it was in the history and leadership style of his predecessor. (This is a company where executives routinely talk about the Rogers "DNA" – as if its way of doing business actually bears the genetic imprint of Ted Rogers.)

And while the Rogers DNA has always had innovation at its core, the company is now at an innovative crossroads. Its huge wireless business has capitalized on the smartphone phenomenon, but with smartphone penetration now around 70 per cent in Canada and aggressive competition from wireless rivals on all sides, it's hard to see where the next growth wave will come from that can possibly even come close to the last. Rogers is talking about the potential for other forms of wireless data and commerce, but in terms of contribution to boosting its revenues and earnings, these remain a long way off; their potential is far from certain, let alone quantifiable.

The company's mainstay cable-television business is losing customers to rival Bell, which has aggressively been marketing (and discounting) its own Fibe service. Rogers thinks cable will be replaced by the Internet as the future for selling and distributing video entertainment services, but how the company will capitalize on that, how much market share it will be able to capture and how profitable that business can be are, at this stage, largely unanswerable questions.

Rogers has said it will launch an international search for a new CEO, and while companies love to say that kind of thing while quietly looking in their own backyard or even their own executive washroom, I hope for their sake that they mean it. The best choice for the next CEO might not even be a telecom or media executive; perhaps an Internet or mobile-technology executive would make more sense. Think someone from Google or Apple, not Telus or Shaw.

And while bringing a whole new type of innovation to the Rogers model, this next CEO will still have to stickhandle through the long shadow of Ted Rogers, too. Perhaps Mr. Mohamed's five years as CEO has created a buffer from the family history that will give his successor the flexibility to take Ted's legacy in unimagined new directions.

David Parkinson is a contributor to ROB Insight, the business commentary service available to Globe Unlimited subscribers. Click here for more of his Insights.

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About the Author
Economics Reporter

David Parkinson has been covering business and financial markets since 1990, and has been with The Globe and Mail since 2000. A Calgary native, he received a Southam Fellowship from the University of Toronto in 1999-2000, studying international political economics. More

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