The Conversation: Rogers CEO Tony Staffieri on creating value for customers and keeping B.C. connected

We met Staffieri in Downtown Vancouver to talk about the company’s efforts to branch out into different industries, expand in B.C. and the recent merger with Shaw

I imagine you’re always travelling these days. How do you like it?

I don’t mind it. I’ve had a long career of travel and I used to do a lot of international travel early in my career. So compared to that, anywhere across Canada is really good.

And you’ve been to Vancouver so many times, what do you think of the city and the province?

I love the city. I’ve been coming here for most of my career, over 30 years. Just watching it evolve, it’s become a very vibrant city. Like any growing city, it certainly has its issues, but it’s exciting in the sense that it’s got growth. Lot of people new to Canada, a lot of investment coming in here. And then you look broadly across B.C., and you sort of see the same thing. It’s a continuation of growth. Have you lived here all your life?

I’ve spent some time in other places like Ottawa and Victoria for school. But born and raised, yes.

How do you feel about the way it’s evolved?

Turning it on me!

[Laughs] I didn’t know we started yet, I was just getting to know you.

It’s interesting, it’s changed so much since I was a kid. I have a 2-year-old. So I think about how his experience growing up in the city is going to be a lot different from mine in some ways. We’re making it work, our families are here, we’re in it for the long haul. You have a lot of efforts and investments here as well.

We do, we’re committed to it. Coming together with Shaw, we had a significant wireless network and now we have a significant cable network. We’ve committed $3 billion of capital to continue to invest. Half a million of that is committed rural connectivity. The commitment is there. Beside the network that we have, we have other assets, 20 TV stations, 15 radio stations. We’re making sure we’re focused on keeping the public informed. As we talk about public safety, that’s an important platform for us to get the messages out.

Is it challenging to invest and do business here given Telus’s presence? Are there more road blocks in B.C. than in other provinces?

They’re different. Every province has its challenges in terms of geography. I think that’s the biggest one. As we build out Highway 16, for example, there’s a lot of rock in the ground, a lot of hilly and mountainous area. Putting a cell tower on the side of a mountain is a lot different than in a farm field, as you can imagine. The engineering challenges are there. That hasn’t deterred us.

What’s encouraging is the reaction you get from both consumers and businesses—they love the idea of more choice. We see our job in this as bringing more choice and more value. It’s rewarding in the sense that there does seem to be enthusiasm in the brand. People are wondering, What do you have to offer, Rogers?

You’ve already talked about a bit, but it’s been six months since the merger with Shaw. Does that put a lot more pressure on you with all these extra employees and responsibilities? What’s the last six months been like for you personally?

It’s been good. I gotta tell you, the pressure is on the legacy of the two companies. Ted [Rogers] and J.R. [Shaw] built these two terrific companies. For me, it’s an honour to be able to work with these two terrific companies and put them together. Going into it, we thought a lot about their legacies and making sure we do this well to create something they’d be proud of. That’s genuinely been our North Star and guiding light on this. What would they want? They’d want something where the customer says, Wow, this is different. Rogers and Shaw coming together made a difference, gave me more value, more choice, more connectivity.

You look at tangible things like Highways 16, 14, 4, 97, 95. Those are all things that, for the longest time, our competitor didn’t take in terms of building out and we’re saying we’re committed to building connectivity in the province. And then the last piece is about innovation. What’s the next best thing? We’re bringing the best broadband with the updates we’re doing there. We’re on the 10G cable apps platform that we’re bringing to the province. We’ve got the best entertainment product, Ignite TV, which is an all IP-based product. We’re bringing home monitoring which Shaw didn’t have. And we’re bringing in a Rogers credit card. We’re a bank. [Flips card on the table].

Can I charge this on a bunch of stuff downstairs? I saw some chocolate muffins.

[Laughs] This one won’t work. It’s just for show. But we’ve been a scheduled bank for 10 years. What we’re doing differently now is trying to create more value. With this one, when you get a card—we launched this last week just ahead of the iPhone launch—you can put your iPhone on this and you can pay it over 4 years. Wireless companies can only do it over two years, that’s just the government rule. By putting it on the credit card, you can pay it over four years. Cut the monthly payments in half. Let’s use the assets we have to get at affordability. So, how do we bring everything we have to bear to make the experience better for the customer?

What’s it like to wear so many hats as CEO? You’re a bank but you’re also deeply involved in sports, radio, tech, etc.

They’re businesses I’m passionate about. The other thing is we keep it simple. If it’s a credit card, what’s the value proposition of the card? You want low monthly payments, great rewards. How do we give the best rewards in the industry? Everything relates to being a Rogers customer. Everyone’s heard about 1 percent cash back. If you’re a Rogers customer, you get 2.6-percent cash back on everything you buy. If you’re a Rogers customer on wireless, we give you five free roam like home days every year. Additional incentives that enhance our value proposition.  You’re a Blue Jays fan, you’re a Rogers customer, every once in a while we’ll do promos so our customers get great tickets to Jays games, which are becoming more and more popular these days and that’s good to see. So everything relates to the value proposition of everything we do. Whether it’s Sportsnet, a team we own, credit card, internet, wireless—how do those things relate to one another and to the Rogers customer?

Do you have any Maple Leafs predictions for this year?

Uh… [laughs]. It’s exciting. Anything can happen. Which is why we’re a big investor in sports, not only sports but the content distribution.

You have three more years left with the Rogers-NHL deal. How has that turned out for you and what are your plans to get as much value out of the last few years as possible?

Well it’s been terrific for us. It was an 11-year deal. One of the objectives was to increase the brand value of the sport in Canada. How do we continue to increase the penetration and get more and more people who are new to Canada to engage with it? So we did things like broadcasting in different languages beyond English and French. And we’ll continue to innovate. It’s an asset we’re quite proud of. It’s done well for us. We like to think we’ve done well for Canadians in the way we’ve evolved hockey viewership. There’s a road map of additional things we want to do for the next three years, so we’ll keep focusing on that.

I’ve heard you’re a big music guy. What’s your most memorable concert?

My first one, a Rush concert. I was 14 years old in Toronto. My good buddy was a drummer, knew someone and we got great seats. You always remember the first one. I’m still a big Rush fan, but I like all kinds of music. The Eagles would probably be at the top of the list.

Are you also a big reader? Any books that have been particularly memorable for you?

I am. People always ask me what my favourite business book is and one that always stands out is Execution: The Discpline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan. Early in my career as I entered operations it was just a terrific book on how to get things done at scale. But if you ask me what I like to read, I like autobiographies. Just finished Bob Iger’s book, which was really good. Now I’m reading Martin Scorsese’s. I just like to read about what other people did, what didn’t work, what did. How they were feeling at the time. I just find those interesting.

Do you take any lessons from someone like Martin Scorsese and apply it to your life or career?

They’re all different, everyone has a different thing you look at, but they all have the same basic principles of tenacity. You gotta have a passion for what you’re doing. If you don’t, do something else.

This interview has been edited and condensed.