02 dicembre 2008

Ted Rogers, magnate canadese: una fortuna dalla radio

Le sue ricchezze di quarto uomo più affluente del Canada sono legate alla telefonia cellulare e alla tv via cavo, ma le radici affondano nei primordi dell'industria della radio. E l'esempio che cercò di seguire da giovane imprenditore fu quello del padre, Edward "Ted" Rogers Sr., il radioamatore che tra i primi aveva collegato in antenna i suoi colleghi d'oltre Atlantico, che aveva acquistato e perfezionato il brevetto di un tubo elettronico alimentabile a corrente alternata per costruire i primi apparecchi capaci di funzionare con l'elettricità di casa, senza le ingombranti e inquinanti batterie che un tempo erano indispensabili per far funzionare i ricevitori dei primordi. La radio è stata l'inizio della fortuna di due famiglie Rogers, prima quella del padre, quindi quella del figlio.
Per colpa di un maledetto aneurisma l'inventore della batteryless radio non arrivò ai quarant'anni, lasciando a Ted Junior, scomparso oggi a Toronto, anche lui per un guaio cardiovascolare, l'eredità ingombrante di un genio della tecnologia e dell'industria, difficile da imitare. Ted Jr - che non studiò ingegneria ma legge - ci riuscì, a modo suo, sfiorando più volte fallimenti clamorosi. E senza centrare un obiettivo sentimental-affaristico importante: riuscire a riacquistare la stazione radio creata dal padre prima di morire, radio CFRB, Canada's First Rogers Batteryless, una di quelle che si possono ascoltare anche qui in Europa, in onde medie, sulla non facile frequenza di 1010 kHz; lo stesso spazio occupato dalla mitica stazione newyorkese WINS anche lei, come CFRB (con somma gioia dei DXer che devono stare ben attenti a non confonderle), una "all news, all the time".
Con la scomparsa di Ted padre, CFRB dovette essere venduta. Una trentina d'anni dopo, il figlio rileva un'altra stazione in modulazione di frequenza, CHFI. Sarà la prima pietra di un impero mediatico che spazia dalla radiofonia alla tv digitale via cavo e comprende anche quotidiani e una squadra di baseball.
Oggi Rogers Communications capitalizza 16 miliardi di dollari americani e ha un fatturato annuo di 10 miliardi di dollari canadesi.

Ted Rogers dies at 75


Globe and Mail Update

December 2, 2008 at 9:30 AM EST

Ted Rogers spent his life defying expectations. He feared he would die by the time he was 38, the age when his father was felled by a ruptured aneurysm, leaving a six-year-old son with the pristine image of a heroic dad.

Driven by this memory, young Ted managed to live almost twice as long as his father, surviving a lengthy catalogue of physical ailments. He died on Tuesday at the age of 75 at his home in Toronto. He suffered from congestive heart failure.
A sickly kid, he was always picked last for sports teams at upper-crust Upper Canada College, but he made himself into a decent boxer. As an adult, he bought a major league baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays, while conceding he was “the village idiot” on baseball matters.
But his greatest expectation-smashing act was escaping bankruptcy, as his flagship Rogers Communications Inc. survived a parade of near-death experiences, buried under the debt amassed by its risk-embracing owner.

The life of Ted Rogers

A look back at the career of one of Canada's most wealthy business figures

“Mr. Rogers' successor as chief executive officer will be addressed by the Rogers Communications board of directors, which intends to form a special committee to lead a search considering internal and external candidates. In the meantime, Alan Horn, chairman of Rogers Communications, will continue to serve as acting chief executive officer and lead the company's office of the president,” the company said in a statement.
In the end, Mr. Rogers was master of the communications universe in Canada, the owner of the dominant cable TV system, of radio and television stations, of magazine publishing, residential telephone services and the largest wireless network. He was the rare communications titan to solve the convergence conundrum, combining media content and transmission in a single corporate entity.
“He was not a strong person, and he had a pretty vulnerable physique, but as long as there was a deal in the air that he could sniff, he would make it,” says Robin Korthals, a former president of the Toronto Dominion Bank, who negotiated the bank's first loan 40 years ago in what would become a mutually beneficial relationship with Mr. Rogers.
He was this country's version of Steve Jobs, a technology entrepreneur who was down but never out, who unabashedly loved gadgetry, who had a huge, resilient ego, who made life hell for his executives but could evoke great loyalty – and who triumphed over naysayers to become the second wealthiest Canadian with a personal net worth estimated at more than $7-billion.
He built his riches on crushingly hard work and a clever understanding of the Byzantine web of government regulation surrounding broadcasting, cable TV and the phone business. Though he started in radio, his near-monopoly in cable television in Canada's richest urban market was the base of his fortune. But he was controversial, and many of his cable customers never forgave Mr. Rogers after being forced to take cable channels they didn't want. The marketing phrase 'negative option billing' became a new Canadian curse.
But the big disappointment of his life was he never purchased Toronto radio station CFRB, started by his father. The Rogers family lost control of it after the father's early death, but young Ted vowed to his mother that one day he would get it back. Right near the end, he was agitating with CFRB's current owner, Astral Media Inc., to buy the station.
Descended from Quaker roots in the United States, Edward Samuel Rogers was born in Toronto on May 27, 1933. His father, also Edward or Ted, was celebrated for his invention of a radio than ran without batteries. In the early days of radio, a set needed a battery the same way a car does now. Ted Rogers Sr. solved that problem by making tubes do the work so the radio could be simply plugged into the wall. The elder Rogers became Canada's largest manufacturer of radios and the last two letters in CFRB stood for “Rogers Batteryless,” the brand name of his invention.
Young Ted Rogers was a gangly child with reddish hair who was born almost blind in his right eye. When his father died in 1939, his mother Velma could not carry on, and there was an uncle who was anxious to rid himself of the industrial assets.
After the sale of the radio factory and CFRB, the estate added up to $384,000, enough for a comfortable life, but it marked the end of his father's technological legacy. Instead, Ted Rogers carried a lifelong torch, collecting old Roger's Majestic radios and driving to rebuild what had been lost.
Mr. Rogers also married well, to a woman who loyally supported him through his near-death experiences. In 1957, he was visiting a school pal in the Bahamas where he went to a party and met Loretta Ann Robinson, the 18-year-old daughter of a British MP, who later became Lord Martonmere and governor of Bermuda.
They married on Sept, 25, 1963 – and Loretta immediately persuaded her father to advance $450,000 from her inheritance to fund Ted's first venture into radio.
Although he was trained in law, it played second fiddle to completing his father's unfinished business. After a lacklustre law-school stint, he sought an articling position with the Toronto law firm of Tory's, where he begged John A. Tory, son of the founder, to take him on. John and his twin brother Jim liked the bumptious, slightly younger man, and hired him despite his poor grades.
“Ted Rogers probably would not have been on our list to interview, but we did hire him,” John A. Tory recalled in an interview with Caroline Van Hasselt, author of a recent biography High Wire Act, Ted Rogers and the Empire that Debt Built. “Whether we would have kept him is a different story. He wasn't around very much.”
Because of Mr. Rogers's absences, Jim Tory, who supervised him, initially refused to sign the document confirming his full-time articling attendance. He relented when his brother pointed out that Mr. Rogers had pledged he would never actually practice law.
Mr. Rogers also promised to get down on his knees and shine Jim Tory's shoes “at any time in any place for the rest of his life,” the book relates. For years afterward, he did just that when he would meet Jim Tory at public events.
Ted Rogers was lucky with his Tory connections – with the Tory party which he supported (his hero was former prime minister John Diefenbaker), and the Tory family, who became lifelong advisers. John A. Tory was consigliere to the wealthy Thomson family, but he was a trusted counsellor to Mr. Rogers, too. And John A.'s son, John H. Tory, became a key RCI executive before pursuing an elected political career.
To some extent, Mr. Rogers followed the business model of patriarch Roy Thomson, the media entrepreneur who believed in using debt leverage to finance growth. But while the Thomsons would deploy free cash flow to pay down existing debt before launching another spending spree, Mr. Rogers gleefully lurched from one leveraged deal to another.
“Maybe he found that exciting,” says John A. Tory, who insists Mr. Rogers was always confident of his ability to salvage the situation, even as his stock price plummeted. He was somewhat protected by the nature of his businesses, such as cable and broadcasting, which were regulated and subscription-based, thus providing steady cash flows. What's more, the heavy capital spending and debt payments allowed Rogers Communications to avoid paying tax year after year.
At Tory's, he actually spent most of his articling time researching how to acquire communications assets. At 26, while dabbling in a new private TV station for Toronto (CFTO), he used an inheritance — about $100,000 — to buy Toronto's first FM station, CHFI.
FM radio was new then, the station had only been on the air since 1957, and FM receivers were expensive. Ted Rogers had some FM radios designed, with CHFI-FM etched into them, and sold them at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, the same place his father launched his Rogers Batteryless Radio in 1925.
Mr. Rogers plunged into the media industry, managing the radio station and opening an AM version of CHFI in 1962. That station stayed in the Rogers stable and in 1990, radio 680 went to an all-news format, with its `traffic and weather together on the ones' or every 10 minutes.

(continua sul The Globe and Mail di Toronto)

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