Companies & Industries

Success dealing with competitive pressures gained Guy Laurence Rogers' top job

His approach to office culture has become the stuff of legend overseas, and now Vodafone UK CEO Guy Laurence will be hopping across the pond to take the helm at Rogers.

He’s a particularly intriguing figure due to his creation of a “weightless” and mobile office structure at Vodafone, which he outlined in a 2011 op-ed. Upon arriving at the company’s UK headquarters in Newbury in 2009, Laurence did away with executive offices, desks, and land lines, instead equipping employees with laptops, tablets, and WiFi. Workers were encouraged to move freely about the office as they did their work, meeting up in both formal and informal settings when it came time to collaborate, and sharing documents electronically in order to speed up productivity.

To hammer this point home, Laurence implemented a “clear-desk” policy, whereby any paper left on work surfaces at the end of the day (even by senior executives) would be collected and incinerated. In a period of one year (2010-2011), the company saved 2.5 million sheets of paper, a 28% drop in paper use from the year before, noted Laurence.

While stories like these get the media’s attention, the Rogers CEO selection committee, which included John Tory, were more interested in finding someone who fit with the company’s goals and could handle a portfolio of holdings ranging from telecom to professional sports. Tory, a former Rogers Cable CEO and Ontario Tory leader, said it’s too soon to tell if desks will be a thing of the past at the Rogers campus in Toronto once Laurence arrives in December, and he may be focused on Rogers’ stiff competitive pressures and a federal government insistent on a strong fourth carrier in the wireless market.

Laurence will succeed Nadir Mohamed, who has been CEO at Rogers since 2009, and who will be retiring in December.

Laurence has had “quite an eclectic and interesting experience in the media,” said Tory, noting Laurence’s early career involvement with the film and music recording industries, as well as pay television. He also devoted energy to finding partnerships for Vodafone UK outside of the telecom industry in order to promote sales. During the interview process, Laurence discussed opportunities for making various parts of the Rogers portfolio work together, Tory added.

“That was very impressive to us as well, and was one of the key considerations.”

Laurence has also previously written of the need for companies to attract members of Generation Y (those born after 1982). He has argued in the past that younger employees are more stimulated by a communal work environment than by the classic, more rigid structure of buildings divided into offices and cubicles, and that major corporations have to adjust in order to keep attracting new workers.

In an interview with the Canadian Press, Canaccord Genuity analyst Dvai Ghose noted a number of challenges that will face Laurence once he begins his new role at Rogers, including the improvement of customer service and the efficiency of the company’s cable division, which competes directly with Bell’s Internet protocol TV service.

“But perhaps his biggest challenge will be making peace with the government in light of this summer’s Verizon wars, which thankfully seem behind us,” Ghose said.

Rumours of Verizon’s entry into Canada recently subsided with the company’s purchase of Vodafone’s 45% Verizon stake, as well as statements from Verizon’s CEO indicating that the company wasn’t particularly interested in going north.

Laurence will still have his work cut out for him, competition-wise, as Rogers continues to compete with fellow telecom giants Telus and Bell in a media world that continues to evolve in different directions.

“I think Mr. Laurence will be very well suited,” said Tory, noting the UK’s own competitive telecom environment, as well as Laurence’s previous role with Vodafone in Amsterdam.

“He was hardly an expert on the Dutch telecom industry when he arrived there, but he’s proven himself to be a person that can deal in an immensely competitive marketplace and achieve terrific results.”

With files from the Canadian Press.

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