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Joe Natale is out at Rogers — to be replaced by Tony Staffieri as interim CEO


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Joe Natale is out at Rogers — to be replaced by Tony Staffieri as interim CEO

Joe Natale is out as CEO of Rogers Communications Inc. (RCI) and will be replaced by his former chief financial officer after a long power struggle that has torn apart one of Canada’s richest families.

The Toronto-based telecom and media company announced Natale’s immediate departure Tuesday evening, confirming an earlier report published by the Star, and said Tony Staffieri will take on the role of interim CEO.

Natale’s exit comes after a bitter boardroom dispute that saw the Rogers family go to war — and to court — after Edward Rogers’s initial attempt to promote Staffieri was thwarted in September. The battle has pitted Edward against his mother, Loretta Rogers, and two of his sisters, Martha Rogers and Melinda Rogers-Hixon.

In statements issued Tuesday evening, Edward welcomed the developments — citing Staffieri’s experience in the sector and involvement in the company’s $26 billion deal to acquire Shaw Communications — while his mother and sisters denounced the news.

“We are very disappointed that Edward has driven the termination of Joe Natale as RCI’s CEO,” the trio said, citing Natale’s experience as a leader and thanking him for his work at the company. “The three of us voted against this misguided decision, which creates great uncertainty for RCI and its employees, customers, sports fans and shareholders, not to mention the Shaw transaction.”

“This is simply another instance in which Edward has placed his desire for unchecked control over RCI ahead of basic good governance and responsible corporate stewardship,” the Rogers women said.

For his part, Edward Rogers thanked Natale for “paving the way for our future together with Shaw.”

“While Joe is moving on, we have an experienced interim CEO and leadership team who will continue to focus on the business, return to stability, and closing our transformational merger with Shaw.”

Rogers said the board has begun a search for a permanent CEO, but noted that Staffieri will be considered a candidate for that role.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission will begin a hearing on the broadcast licences to be transferred as part of the Shaw deal on Monday. Rogers said that Edward will attend the hearing.

When the Rogers Communications board voted last month to remove Edward as board chair, he used his position as chair of the family trust that controls 97.5 per cent of the company’s voting shares to remake the board of directors.

A British Columbia court confirmed earlier this month that he had the power to remove and replace four board members using a written resolution and without calling a shareholder meeting. In the wake of the ruling, Edward said that he and the board supported Natale as CEO.

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But that followed a bruising fight with his mother and sisters, who opposed Edward’s initial plan to promote Staffieri based on his concerns that Natale was not performing well as CEO.

Natale learned of that plan when he overheard Staffieri describing it during a phone call. Various players close to the drama have said Staffieri either inadvertently placed the call or mistakenly answered it, but either way, he did not realize Natale was listening in.

That set off a chain of events that led to the board of directors initially voting to approve a generous retirement package for Natale. But within days, his mother and sisters formed an alliance with a group of independent board directors and rescinded that vote.

The board decided to keep the CEO and instead fire Staffieri, who exited the company abruptly on Sept. 29.

Edward spent most of the month of October engaged in a campaign to replace the four independent directors who opposed him, including David Peterson, who is also vice-chair of Torstar, the company that owns the Toronto Star.

Natale’s exit as CEO will now raise questions about the fate of other top executives at the telecom. At least one of the company’s 11-member leadership team has already publicly suggested he could follow his boss out the door.

David Fuller, who is president of the company’s wireless division, was in line for a role in the new management team Edward was putting together. But Fuller said in an affidavit in October that he had no idea about that plan and implied he would not have agreed to it.

“The reason I joined Rogers was because of the opportunity to work with Joe Natale,” Fuller said. “My strong preference would be to continue to do so.”

In a separate statement Tuesday evening, Robert Gemmell, an independent board member who has supported Edward in this fight and is now the company’s lead director, said the board met Tuesday evening to “resolve outstanding management issues.”

He said the board expressed support for Natale after the Nov. 6 court ruling and “worked earnestly and in good faith to establish a constructive working relationship that would see Mr. Natale remain in his position through the closing of the Shaw merger. Unfortunately, a mutually agreeable arrangement could not be reached.”

“Recognizing the need for continuity, stability, and the expeditious closing of our merger with Shaw Communications, the Board expressed overwhelming support for the appointment of Tony Staffieri as interim President and CEO,” Gemmell said.

Christine Dobby is a Toronto-based business reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @christinedobby

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