Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ted Rogers: media and communications pioneer

Relentless, The True Story of the Man Behind Rogers Communications 
With Robert Brehl
Published by HarperCollins Canada Ltd. (2008)

Just before he passed away in 2008 at the age of 75, Ted Rogers released his autobiography, entitled Relentless, The True Story of the Man Behind Rogers Communications.

There is much to admire about this man who almost single-handedly changed the communications landscape in Canada. Aside from being a proud Canadian his entire life, Rogers was a driven man, someone who spent most of adult years chasing after a dream to reclaim his father’s legacy after his untimely death at age 38.

Throughout his life, Rogers viewed himself an outsider, a loner, always bucking against the establishment. But – as far as I could tell – he led a fairly comfortable lifestyle, attending private schools and getting a first-class education. He always seemed to be well-connected with Toronto bankers, and with the business and political elites of the day. The “outsider” label seems a bit of a stretch.

Nonetheless, his early forays into radio (with the purchase of CHFI in Toronto, Canada’s first FM radio station) and his partnership with John Bassett (owner of CFTO TV and the former Toronto Telegram) were among the early successes in his career. Rogers, himself, was not a technical genius, but he seemed to know before anybody else what consumers wanted, and he knew how to sell his vision.

In Relentless, Rogers comes across as a little too reckless at times, always willing to bet the farm on the next big technology. He was lucky to have dodged bankruptcy several times. His excessive debt loads could have sent men and women of lesser mettle scurrying for Chapter 11 protection.

One of Rogers’ many talents was his ability to envision the future. In the 1960s, he got involved in cable TV and seemed to know instinctively that cable represented the future of TV. He also invested heavily in wireless technology, first in cell phones and later in Internet connectivity. For many industry observers at the time, these bets seemed preposterous and irresponsible, but Rogers had enough belief in his convictions and he kept his eye on the horizon.

Relentless is a book that was assembled in a hurry. Rogers must have been aware that his health was failing, when he embarked on this project; there is a sense of urgency in getting his story down on paper in his own words, even if it wasn’t a complete self-portrait.

I made note of a few good quotes in Relentless:

  • “You have to have an accounting of how you’re doing to be able to make clear decisions on where you want to go.”
  • “Just because something is done one way doesn't mean it can’t be improved upon or done in a different way.” 
  • “I learned early that failure is a necessary component of success and an entrepreneur cannot let setbacks sideline him or her from objectives.”
  • “Solid and thorough preparation can trump just about anything.”
  • “Always aim high and look for vulnerability in the market leader.”
  • “Don’t follow a dream; live it.”

Relentless not only gives us Ted Rogers’ take on an illustrious career in the communications industry, it also provides a good overview of the cable and wireless industries in Canada, as they have evolved over the past five decades.

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