Ted Rogers – A Life Unconquerable
May 27 marks the 80th anniversary of the birth of Ted Rogers. Once the second richest man in Canada and president of Rogers Communications, he also gave his name to the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University. But yet, little is known about the man behind the name.
By Viviane Fairbank, Staff Writer
Ted Rogers had always taken pride in his pace of action. In his aptly named autobiography, Relentless, he wrote, “I love speed. I’ve always had the drive the get things done.”
The only thing he continuously postponed, in fact, was his death.
Outliving both his parents, and doubling his father’s age, the Toronto-born founder of Rogers Communications Inc. was determined to stay alive as long as possible in order to secure his business legacy — and he had the means to do so.
In 2007, Rogers was named the second richest man in Canada by the Canadian Business magazine. He had a net worth of $7.6 billion.
His influence on Canadian business, on the other hand, was much greater.In 1991, Rogers was made an officer of the Order of Canada.A few years later, he was introduced into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame.Throughout his life, Rogers received eight honorary doctorates from North American universities.
Rogers, a tall man with greying blond hair and a pale complexion, quickly grew a reputation after buying CHFI, Canada’s first FM radio station, in 1960. By the end of his life, though he was physically more frail, Rogers’ influence was undeniable.
The Ted Rogers School of Management, named after Rogers following a $15 million donation, owes its success to the brand of Rogers’ name. Adam Kahan, vice-president of university advancement, explains that Rogers’ name on the building had a huge impact on the school’s recognition.
“I remember Sheldon Levy [Ryerson’s president] and I went to see Ted to begin the discussion about whether he would consider naming the business school,” says Kahan. “In the taxi, I asked [Levy], ‘How much money should we offer him to help him give his name?’ In reality, he was giving us the money, but both of us recognized that he was considered to be one of the best entrepreneurs in Canada.”
The money donated by Rogers and his wife Loretta allowed for many scholarships at the undergraduate and graduate levels, both at Ryerson and at the University of Toronto.
Much of Rogers’ philanthropic work alongside his wife has been focused towards students. The couple donated tens of millions of dollars toward education, including the institutions that their children, Edward, Lisa, Melinda, and Martha, attended. Rogers wrote in his autobiography, “I can think of few things worse than good minds not developing to their full potential because of economic reasons.”
Kahan, who worked alongside Rogers for several years during the establishment of the school of management, remembers the enthusiasm with which Rogers spoke to young students.
“During the awards ceremony, each student would present his or her research, and often [Rogers] would bring his executives. He would turn to them and say, ‘You better hire that guy, hire that girl.’ He was always looking for opportunities. We would bring students to meet him and Loretta and that would be the best part of the event for him.”
Even when students were not presenting research, Rogers was well known for always being on the go.In a famous quote, former Ontario lieutenant-governor Hal Jackman described his old classmate: “Ted is not laid back,” he said.
Kahan admits that he never saw Rogers stop working, even when they were in the elevator. “He was a completely driven person for success, for outcomes and for involvement. Every time I was with him and other people, he would always ask them whether they use Rogers service.”
Rogers never let his success — or his failures — get to him. Often, Rogers was criticized for his managing of debt and his heavy risk taking, admitting himself at times that he should be more careful. Caroline Van Hasselt, in her book,Ted Rogers and the Empire That Debt Built, condemned Rogers’ business practices, noting: “Debt has never been the hallmark of a great leader.”
Rogers affirmed, however, that “If you haven’t got problems, you haven’t lived right; you haven’t tried enough.”
“I’d say I was bloody lucky,” he wrote.