The man responsible for steering Shaw Communications Inc. into the increasingly competitive Canadian wireless industry has abruptly left the troubled cable giant for both professional and personal reasons, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Laurence Cooke was hired last summer to lead Shaw's crucial move into the telecom sector's fastest growth area and his departure, which comes during a tumultuous time at the company, may fuel impressions that Shaw has lacked focus and drive in its wireless effort.
Calgary-based Shaw, which recently shuffled its top executives, is aiming to launch an expensive wireless network while also integrating the $2-billion acquisition of CanWest Global Communications Corp.'s television assets. At the same time, Shaw faces fierce competition from Telus Corp. (which gained momentum in the past year with its high-quality TV service) and a burst of new wireless competitors that are signing up subscribers in Shaw's western Canadian backyard.
Mr. Cooke, who was educated in South African and London and previously worked at both BCE Inc. and Accenture, declined to confirm or deny his departure from Shaw when reached by telephone on Thursday. Shaw's senior executives did not respond to requests for comment.
The decision to hire Mr. Cooke as vice-president of wireless was made by an executive team led by former Shaw president and vice-chairman Jim Shaw, who handed control to his younger brother Brad Shaw in November. That transition took place under the watch of their father and company chairman, JR Shaw. It came earlier than planned and followed a bizarre lunch with investors in Vancouver, where several people who were present told The Globe and Mail that Jim Shaw appeared to be inebriated and was insulting to many of those who attended.
Shaw's wireless venture had a planned launch of late 2011, and has a registered launch date with an international wireless association for September. However, some industry watchers said a launch that early could be unrealistic, given the focus that has been given to the large CanWest acquisition and a lack of investment in wireless.
Quebecor Inc.'s Vidéotron Ltée, the Montreal-based cable company that launched a wireless network last September, had invested significantly more capital in its network, Canaccord Genuity analyst Dvai Ghose wrote in a note to clients on Thursday; Vidéotron also had some infrastructure in place for reselling wireless service on another company's network for several years.
Brahm Eiley, a principal at Convergence Consulting Group Ltd., said he expects to see Shaw launch a wireless network in at least one major western city by the end of 2011.