‘(Ted) Rogers ran the business; Loretta ran the family’
A matriarch, a business partner, a philanthropist, an artist, a socialite — these were among the many roles Loretta Rogers took on throughout her life. Above all, she was a mother who was fiercely proud of the late husband she supported and the children she raised.
Rogers, who passed away Saturday at the age of 83, was a key figure in the growth of Rogers Communications Inc., the cable and telecommunications giant built by her husband of 45 years, Ted Rogers.
Loretta wasn’t just a corporate wife, though her philanthropy was well-known and she was often by Ted’s side at corporate functions. She came from money and quiet power and sat on the board of Rogers for decades, as well as holding a key seat on the family trust that controls it — even when that raised eyebrows in corporate governance circles.
She also played a prominent role in a family and corporate feud last year over control of Rogers, which came as the telecom giant sought to complete its largest and boldest transaction: the $26-billion takeover of Calgary-based rival Shaw Communications Inc.
Loretta Anne Robinson was born April 13, 1939 in London, England, into a home of wealth. Her father was a British member of Parliament, John Roland Robinson, and her mother, Maysie Robinson, the U.S.-born heiress of former retail giant Woolworth. She would grow up between her family homes in Lyford Cay in the Bahamas and Tucker’s Town in Bermuda, according to Caroline Van Hasselt’s 2007 biography on the Rogers company, High Wire Act.
Ted Rogers was immediately taken by Loretta when the two met at a dinner party in 1957, and the two married in 1963. Loretta, who never hesitated to speak her mind at home, swiftly made it a point to calm Ted’s quick temper and keep his frustrations at the office, away from home life.
“(Ted) Rogers ran the business; Loretta ran the family,” Van Hasselt wrote.
Still, it was at Loretta’s urging that her father helped finance Ted’s career, according to Van Hasselt. He reluctantly advanced her $450,000 six months after their wedding (an investment worth the equivalent of nearly $4 million today). It was then that Loretta became a business partner as well as a life partner to the telecom founder.
Her death came after what was arguably one of her most difficult years personally and professionally.
The global COVID-19 pandemic aside, her family had been divided by a feud over company leadership that pitted her only son against the rest of the family. Even after an uneasy truce was reached, the transformational Shaw deal that would have been the crowning victory for the company her husband had scrappily built despite repeated brushes with insolvency, was thrown into jeopardy by competition authorities.
Though there were signs of reconciliation in recent months in the corporate and family turmoil that rocked Rogers last year, Loretta’s roles on the board and the family trust that controls the company thrust her into the spotlight.
In an affidavit filed in October, she accused her son Edward of undermining the wishes of his late father, who died in 2008, by replacing independent company directors without calling a meeting of all shareholders. The fight pitted Loretta and daughters Martha and Melinda Rogers-Hixon against Edward over who should preside over the company Ted founded in 1960. In her affidavit, filed with The British Columbia Supreme Court, Loretta said it brought her “no joy” to make the statements, but she accused Edward of acting against independent directors who had tried to stop him from acting as de facto CEO of Rogers and jeopardizing the Shaw merger.
She later issued a statement saying she had been misled by her son about the CEO’s performance and “reversed course” when she had a more complete picture.
In the end, the B.C. court sided with Edward, who is chair of the family trust, when it came to replacing five directors, who subsequently backed Edward’s choice for a new CEO. Loretta and her daughters said they would not push the issues further to keep the focus on completing the Shaw transaction.
In the most tangible sign that reconciliation had taken place, Edward began his speech at Rogers’ annual meeting in April by thanking his mother. He went on to thank a long list of senior executives and new board members who joined in “difficult circumstances.”
In a statement following his mother’s death Saturday, Edward said he and his three sisters, Lisa, Melinda, and Martha, were “grieving for an amazing woman … who possessed an incredible strength of character.” He added that her children, along with those who knew her “will deeply miss her leadership and guidance.”
Despite the quieting of the family and corporate feuding, the Shaw transaction remains up in the air. Loretta’s decades-long passion to help Ted regain his own father’s telecommunications legacy — cut short by his early death at the age of 38 — suggests the uncertainty surrounding the acquisition would not have sat well.
“Following Ted’s death, Loretta devoted herself to keeping his vision alive and making Rogers the absolute best it could be,” the company said in a statement after her passing on Saturday, adding that “Loretta and Ted supported each other to grow Rogers into the company that it is today.”
Rob Prichard, the former chief executive of media company Torstar Corp. who now serves as chair of law firm Torys LLP, described her passing as a major loss, telling the Financial Post she lived a long and consequential life.
“Loretta was a grand matriarch in the best sense: a towering strength and central figure in the Rogers family’s extraordinary success and prominence,” he said.
Gar Emerson, a former independent chair of the Rogers board who left in 2006 after a surprise falling out with the founder — and despite being married to one of Ted’s cousins — recalled Loretta as a witty and a happy person and a crucial business ally.
“She brought out the best of Ted. She was an essential part of his business achievements,” he said.
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