Rogers Communications chairman Ed Rogers, less than two weeks after winning a court battle that backed his moves to replace five members of his board of directors, said late Tuesday that company CEO Joe Natale has stepped aside in favor of former chief financial officer Tony Staffieri, a move that didn't go down well with Rogers's mother and two sisters, who are also top shareholders in the Canadian telecom giant.
Rogers Communications said Nov. 16 that Natale stepped down as CEO and Staffieri was named interim CEO of the company. Staffieri resigned in September after it was revealed in press reports that he had accidentally pocket-dialed Natale while he was having discussions with former Rogers legal counsel David Miller to oust the former CEO. Staffieri was backed by Ed Rogers in the attempted coup, but the scandal forced the communications giant’s board to hold an emergency meeting where they ousted Ed Rogers as chairman and threw their support to Natale. Staffieri resigned as CFO on Sept. 29.
Less than two weeks later, on Oct. 12, Rogers’ board said it had replaced Ed Rogers as chairman, naming board member John MacDonald in his place.
Although the board decision to push him out was reportedly engineered by his own mother, Ed Rogers, who also serves as chairman of the family trust that controls 97.5% of Rogers Communications voting stock, fired five independent members of the company's board of directors and reinstated himself as chairman.
That action touched off a public battle between Ed, his mother Loretta and two sisters Martha Rogers and Melinda Rogers-Hixon, who claimed Ed’s actions were illegal and violated the company charter. On Nov. 5, the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled in favor of Ed Rogers, who then said in a statement that Natale had the support of the Roger Communications board.
That didn’t last long. On Nov. 16, Rogers Communications issued a press release that said Natale would no longer be CEO effective that day and that Staffieri would replace him in the interim. Rogers said it would immediately begin its search for a permanent CEO, adding that Staffieri would also be considered.
The shakeup comes as Rogers’s $20-billion takeover of Shaw Communications continues to wind its way through the Canadian regulatory approval process. While that deal is expected to be completed by the first half of next year, and regulators insist they are concentrating on competitive issues, not family squabbles in their decision-making, other observers have said the ongoing drama has to have some effect on the deal.
“Tony is amongst the most highly regarded and seasoned telecommunications executives in the industry and was a key part of the Shaw deal,” Ed Rogers said in the press release. “His incredible work ethic, track record for results, focus on long-term strategic growth, driving an excellent experience for our customers and employees, and strong operational execution will serve us well. The company has an exceptional set of assets and the Board has full confidence in his ability to lead Rogers during this period.”
According to Reuters, Rogers board member Robert Gemmell said in a statement that the company was had tried to reach a “constructive working relationship” with Natale through the Shaw merger, but failed to reach a deal.
In a statement issued to the Toronto Star on Nov. 16, Ed Rogers’s mother and siblings had a different interpretation of Staffieri’s appointment, saying they were disappointed that “Edward has driven the termination of Joe Natale as RCI’s CEO."
“Joe is a world-class telecom leader, and as we have always said, we believe he’s the right person to lead RCI as chief executive,” the statement said. “The three of us voted against this misguided decision, which creates great uncertainty for RCI and its employees, customers, sports fans and shareholders, not to mention the Shaw transaction.”
Shaw representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment. ■
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Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.