Mr. Rogers - I’m Glad I Knew You.

The Canadian telecom industry lost one of its greatest characters with the passing of Ted Rogers. I had the good fortune to work with him and get to know him for about three years.  His attitude, interest and business smarts were everything the legends make him out to be.

Meeting Ted

I remember fondly my first real business meeting with Ted. I was working at the time for Unitel Communications Inc.—a struggling contender to the early long distance competition. Rogers had a shareholding in the company and Ted sat on our board.

My job was to interpret the network engineer’s grand plans for infrastructure and convert these into dollars and sense for the board. At the time we were proposing what were seen as obscene amounts of money to become a facilities based long distance carrier. Never in the history of Canadian telecom had a non-incumbent company thought of spending as much as was proposed. So it was with some trepidation that I walked into the board with my deck of slides.

Wherein Ted does his thing

Ted ripped into us with gusto and thankfully we were armed to the teeth. With a few minor exceptions he fully endorsed our proposal. This was no small feat as Ted loved technology and would spend an inordinate amount of time probing all aspects of what was then pretty new technology. It was one of the longest board meetings on record. About three hours after the meeting he called me personally (a first for me) and thanked me for the great discussion, commented on the hard work we had put into the plan, and encouraged rapid progress.

Over the course of the next few years we had the opportunity to meet over other business and he always was thorough, interested and appreciative of the never ending hard work we had all undertaken. No matter how difficult the topic, or how challenging the subject was, he remained a gentleman to the end.

Lessons learned

From my work with him and observations I made of his actions I learned three important lessons:

  1. Always look beyond the ‘now’ to see what could be in the future. The man had an uncanny ability to understand complex technology and think how it might be a new service offering, a major competitive advantage or a part of a bigger initiative. He was not a small thinker and expected his staff to be big thinkers too.
  2. There is no such thing as a dead end. His opinion of things that slowed progress was that they were there to challenge your determination. If you were determined to achieve something, no obstruction would stop you from getting it done, as long as you were committed. For him it often meant finding a unique or creative way around the obstacles to progress.
  3. Set bold challenging goals for your staff and take the time to follow up to make sure they are moving in the right direction. He often tossed out a big hairy challenge on the board room table and looked around at who might pick it up and run with it. The people, who did pick up the challenges, gained a different level of respect from him when they were able to achieve the outcomes.

So long

Alas the world will miss this man. I am happy to have known him for a very brief time.

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