Vodafone UK’s Guy Laurence named Rogers CEO

Executive is known for shaking up corporate culture to better compete
Guy Laurence is shown in this undated handout photo. Rogers Communications has appointed the chief executive of Vodafone U.K. as its new president and CEO, ahead of a wireless auction that will see Canada’s telecom companies compete for radio waves to expand their cellphone networks. Guy Laurence, 52, will be the top executive of Toronto-based Rogers, which is one of Canada’s largest communications companies, in December. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Rogers, Alfons Lenders

Rogers Communications Inc.’s decision to tap Vodafone UK CEO Guy Laurence to replace current CEO Nadir Mohamed, who announced his retirement earlier this year, signals a subtle shift in strategy at the cable and wireless giant.

Rogers (which owns Maclean’s) said Thursday that Laurence, 51, will assume the top job Dec. 2. “Guy is a strong, proven executive who has consistently delivered strong financial and operating results in highly complex and competitive markets,” Alan Horn, the chair of Rogers’ board, said in a statement. “The breadth and depth of his experience in telecommunications, pay television and media are perfectly suited to Rogers and to the challenges and opportunities we see ahead.”

When Mohamed took the helm in 2009, Rogers needed someone who could better integrate the sprawling media and communications empire built by founder Ted Rogers, while delivering consistent results for shareholders. Also important was finding a candidate capable of working closely with the Rogers family, which controls the company through voting shares. Mohamed was an obvious choice on both counts. He had spent nearly a decade working at  the late Rogers’ side—first as the head of wireless and then as president and chief operating officer—and was widely viewed by analysts as a brilliant manager with a particular knack for running wireless companies.

But four years later, the challenges facing Rogers are no longer internal. Ottawa has pledged to double down on its efforts to boost competition in the sector, longtime rival Bell Canada has re-emerged as a far more nimble competitor and the entire industry is grappling with the threat posed by Internet-based TV services like Netflix to traditional cable and satellite operations.

Laurence, who first joined Vodafone in 2000 and became CEO of the UK division eight years later, appears particularly well-equipped to lead the company in this new, more competitive environment. At Vodafone, he was credited with shaking up a staid corporate culture to better compete with wireless rivals. In a bid to connect with younger subscribers, Laurence did away with many traditional office trappings, including dress codes, desks and even landline telephones, according to a 2011 report in the Daily Telegraph. Instead, employees were told to wear what they wanted and instructed to work on mobile phones and laptops in “home zones” or the company coffee shop. “We said we were going to break every rule we felt was no longer relevant to Generation Y,” Laurence told the newspaper. “That’s how it started. Now it’s become a way of life for us.” He also refocused the company on customer service—a frequent complaint of Canadian cellphone subscribers, regardless of their provider.

Laurence’s background in media—he has held senior positions at MGM Studios, United Cinemas and Chrysalis Records—will also be key given Rogers’ extensive holdings in this area, including magazines and radio and television stations. Rogers current strategy seeks to capitalize on company-owned content—particularly sports—to help sell wireless and cable services. That includes the Rogers-owned Toronto Blue Jays baseball team and the company’s partial ownership stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which operates the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club and Toronto Raptors basketball team. The 2011 deal to buy MLSE in partnership with Bell for $1.32 billion was arguably Mohamed’s biggest move in his four years as CEO.

Laurence said in a statement that Rogers’ “unique mix of wireless, cable and media assets offer a brilliant platform to provide innovative service to Canadians” and that he plans to “to build on the strong foundation established under Nadir’s leadership to compete and win in the market.”

Rogers class-B shares were largely unchanged following Laurence’s appointment at $42.77, down 68 cents.