Several Canadian cities are facing high office vacancy rates even as many workers have returned to downtown towers and suburban business parks. With residential rents increasing and a housing shortage in much of Canada, the idea of turning empty offices into housing is very trendy. There’s even government funding for renovating offices into residential use. Projects are underway in Calgary and Halifax; others are being planned or debated in Toronto, London, Ont., and Yellowknife.But what are the keys to making an office conversion work? And how much do conversions reduce the glut of office space, and create meaningful housing stock?CBC News spoke with experts inside the industry to find out.WATCH | Cities work to transform empty office buildings into residential space: Cities work to transform empty office buildings into residential space2 days agoDuration 2:04Cities across North America are repurposing older, empty office buildings, turning them into residential property — and demolishing them outright if they’re not worth salvaging.The problem and the potential While 8-10 per cent vacancy is considered healthy for the office market, according to the commercial real estate firm CBRE, the national office vacancy rate is 17 per cent and a few major city centres are even higher like Calgary at 30 per cent, Edmonton at 22 per cent and London, Ont., also at 22 per cent. Other firms have more upbeat figures, but older offices are a hard sell for leases, leaving a lot of space that seems ripe for residential conversion.Turning offices into condos or apartments, however, usually isn’t a quick fix.”In some cases (it’s) really easy,” said Steven Paynter, a director and architect in Toronto with Gensler, an international architecture and planning firm.”But if the building doesn’t work, it just doesn’t work at all and then it’s near on impossible.”Buildings need a high score on ‘conversion calculator’ If there’s one person who knows the score on what makes office conversions work, it’s probably Paynter.He and colleagues at Gensler developed a conversion calculator to compare office towers to an ideal residential building. Steven Paynter, an architect in Toronto who works on conversion projects, says some offices are easy to turn into residences, but most are nearly impossible.
As a snowstorm bore down on Toronto, Aaron Grinhaus spoke fondly about the view from his office — not his law firm’s building in midtown, but the one in the metaverse, where two park benches sit around a water fountain and the sky is a gradient of denimblue. “It’s a cute little office,” said the lawyer during a Jan. 25 interview. “It’s got a park bench and some nice foliage around. So we can sit outside and have meetings, even if it’s (a) snowstorm in Toronto.”Grinhaus’ Toronto law firm is one of a growing group of companies setting up offices in a virtual world called themetaverse to push the envelope and learn more about the emerging technology. There’s a lot of hope pinned on the metaverse’s future. Citigroup said it could represent a market of between $8 trillion and $13 trillion by 2030, while Goldman Sachs said as much as a third of the global digital market could shift to the metaverse as people increasingly make transactions there. But it’s not a guaranteed win just yet. Meta Inc., the parent company of Facebook, has bet big on the metaverse, going so far as to evoke the concept in its new corporate name. If Citigroup’s prediction rings true, Meta will have been in on a developing business from the beginning, but in the meantime, its metaverse-focused division lost US$13.72 billion in 2022.Grinhaus has been representing clients involved in bitcoin, cryptocurrency mining, and other ventures relating to cryptocurrencies and other emerging technologies for several years. He wrote the first legal textbook on blockchain law in 2019 — blockchain is the technology that underpins cryptocurrency transactions — and is the co-director of the Osgoode law school’s blockchain law program. And in January 2022, his became the first Canadian law firm to open an office in the metaverse. Grinhaus describes the metaverse as an internet-based environment where people can interact and transact.If that doesn’t sound too different from Facebook or Instagram, Grinhaus agrees. He sees the metaverse on a spectrum that includes social media at one end and virtual-reality headsets on the other. “Most people have been engaged in the metaverse for years. And they didn’t even know it,” he said. Somewhere on that spectrum is the law firm’s Decentraland office. VR headsets are optional, but even without one it’s nothing like scrolling Facebook. Users walk around asavatars, exploring the space and interacting with each other, in a way that may seem familiar to anyone who has played “The Sims.” The co-ordinates of Grinhaus’ Decentraland office are posted on the firm’s website. In metaverse platforms such as Decentraland, where Grinhaus’ firm resides, plots of land are sold as NTFs, or non-fungible tokens — digital assets whose ownership is verified using the blockchain.There’s a lot of opportunity for companies in the metaverse, said Brian Peterson, Americas Metaverse leader at EY Canada.“We’re pretty comfortable now having virtual meetings and virtual conversations. So I think it’s a natural extension to try to get more human in our virtual experiences,” he said.But Peterson said organizations need to consider how they will approach things like ability, identity and accessibility in these new spaces, something EY’s metaverse lab is currently exploring. “If an organization creates an office in the metaverse and they don’t design around some of those things, then it can actually be quite isolating for employees.”The metaverse might seem far-fetched or gimmicky to some, but Grinhaus thinks it could become a significant tool for many professions, and increase accessibility if done right.“People think it’s very complicated, but it’s not. It’s just another point of contact,” he said. But there are many things Grinhaus’ law firm cannot do in the metaverse, at least not yet. Lawyers have strict rules to follow. For example, they have an obligation to verify potential clients’ identities before entering into agreements that allow them to give legal advice. There are some digital platforms that enable this, but it’s up to the lawyer to determine whether they’re satisfied that they have confirmed a client’s identity, said Grinhaus, who errs on the side of caution. “I’m not cutting any corners. What we are doing is we’re augmenting or supplementing what we do today with the new technology to enhance communication.“There are similar rules around accepting money, said Grinhaus. His law firm has accepted cryptocurrency since 2016, and identity verification is important for financial transactions no matter the currency, he said. The usefulness of the metaverse will depend on the business, Peterson said. As the technology improves, and the possible uses for the metaverse become more obvious, businesses need to think about what they are trying to achieve, he said.“For this to really take off, the problems have to make sense and have to be worth coming together in a virtual environment to solve,” he said.Some firms are seeking out those uses and potential challenges in a hands-on way. In June, KPMG launched its metaverse collaboration hub for employees and clients in the U.S. and Canada. Unlike the Grinhaus office, it’s not on a decentralized platform, but on a private one licensed by the firm, the same way a company can get a license for Zoom or Microsoft Teams, explained Kareem Sadek, co-leader of the firm’s crypto assets and blockchain practice. That means you need an invitation to enter, allowing for more control and privacy. Over the past seven months, the KPMG hub has hosted workshops, meetings, training, roundtables and other types of interactions, said Katie Bolla, who co-leads the firm’s metaverse services. Some people use headsets while others use a computer or mobile phone. The first space people view when they enter the hub is a large, open area with waterfalls, tropical plants and an ambient soundscape.“You can kind of stretch the boundaries of the physical reality to create something that is more immersive,” said Bolla. For companies looking to better engage people, the metaverse can serve as a more interactive tool than video conferencing — and cheaper than flying people around, she said. The intent is to get to a place where people use the hub more organically or casually, said Bolla, but right now KPMG makes an effort to schedule a variety of events and meetings there to encourage exploration. “Even though it was launched last year with a single use case in mind, we haven’t stopped building and developing and expanding on it,” she said. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2023.SHARE:JOIN THE CONVERSATION Anyone can read Conversations, but to contribute, you should be a registered Torstar account holder. If you do not yet have a Torstar account, you can create one now (it is free)Sign InRegisterConversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the
TORONTO – Five things to watch for in the Canadian business world in the coming week:Bank of CanadaBank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem will give a speech in Quebec City on monetary policy on Tuesday and hold a news conference. The central bank will also release a summary of deliberations for its interest rate decision last month on Wednesday. It will be the first time the Bank of Canada releases a look at the discussions behind its interest rate decision making process.Saputo resultsSaputo Inc. will release its third-quarter results after the close of markets on Thursday and hold a conference call on Friday. The company announced a new packaging facility and expanded string cheese operations in the U.S. last week as well as plans to close three facilities.Job numbersStatistics Canada will release its labour force survey for January on Friday. The jobs report follows comments from the Bank of Canada last month that it would pause its interest rate hikes as it assesses the affect on the economy and inflation.Enbridge earningsEnbridge Inc. will release its fourth-quarter results before financial markets open Friday and hold a conference call with financial analysts and investors. Greg Ebel became chief executive of the company at the start of the year, taking over from Al Monaco.Magna resultsMagna International Inc. will report its fourth-quarter results on Friday. Last month, the company warned its margins for 2022 would be lower than it forecast. The auto parts company said its adjusted earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) margin is expected to be about 4.3 per cent for 2022 compared with the range of 4.8 to 5.0 per cent expected in its November outlook for the year.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2023.Companies in this story: (TSX:SAP, TSX:ENB, TSX:MG)SHARE:JOIN THE CONVERSATION Anyone can read Conversations, but to contribute, you should be a registered Torstar account holder. If you do not yet have a Torstar account, you can create one now (it is free)Sign InRegisterConversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has expanded a recall for Falooda Drink that was initially issued because the product contains milk that is not listed on the label.The recall originally covered Nutrifresh Falooda Drink with Almond Flavour, but has now been expanded to include Mango, Pistachio and Rose flavours, all sold in 290 ml bottles.The distribution area of the beverage has also been expanded to now include all 10 provinces.The recall was triggered by Canadian Food Inspection Agency test results.There have been no reports of any illnesses linked to the product.Customers are being told to either throw the beverage out or return it to where it was purchased.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2023.SHARE:JOIN THE CONVERSATION Anyone can read Conversations, but to contribute, you should be a registered Torstar account holder. If you do not yet have a Torstar account, you can create one now (it is free)Sign InRegisterConversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the
At the urging of Onex heavyweight Tony Melman, Staffieri joins computer component manufacturing company Celestica as a senior vice-president of finance.
“He got very involved in the first acquisition that I did (at Celestica),” Melman said. “He was really very, very good, so much so that I told the CFO, ‘I want to hire this guy.’ ”
Staffieri and Chiappetta buy a property in Vaughan for $660,000. They’ll sell the same property, with a new home, 13 years later, for $7.2 million.
Staffieri joins Bell Canada as a vice-president of finance.
Bell promotes Staffieri to senior vice-president. His reputation at the firm is mixed. Some former colleagues describe him as a political climber. Others praise his tireless dedication to the job.
“He was the binder man,” said one banker who worked with him at the time. “Tony is famous for showing up at meetings with binders and being able to put his finger in the tab that shows exactly where the exhibit is that he’s trying to find.”
Dec. 15, 2009
Staffieri and Chiappetta sue their insurance company, claiming hail damaged the roof of their “upscale, quality-built, custom home.”
Jan. 5, 2011
Staffieri and Chiappetta sue the makers of their pool and spa claiming negligent construction had robbed them of “at least three complete seasons of use of the pool.”
Oct. 26, 2011
Rogers names Staffieri its CFO in waiting following news company legend Bill Linton plans to retire in 2012.
June 26, 2012
Rogers axes 375 mid-level employees, part of a wave of cost cuts during Staffieri’s first quarter as CFO.
March 31, 2016
Four Seasons tower
Staffieri and Chiappetta buy a luxury condo in the Four Seasons tower in Yorkville for $5.75 million. They later buy two properties totalling $5.725 million on Lake Simcoe to serve as their primary residence.
Sept. 29, 2021
Rogers sends out a quiet news release announcing Staffieri’s departure as CFO.
Oct. 21, 2021
The Globe and Mail reports Staffieri was fired after accidentally leaking details of a plan to overthrow his boss, Joe Natale, in what the paper described as a “butt dial.” Multiple sources later tell the Star different versions of the same story. Later still, Staffieri denies it happened at all.
“The facts are the facts,” he told the Star. “There was no butt dial.”
Nov. 16, 2021
Edward Rogers fires Joe Natale as CEO and rehires Staffieri as his interim replacement.
Jan. 11, 2022
Staffieri is named permanent CEO. Within weeks he will have completely overhauled Rogers’ executive leadership team.
July 8, 2022
An error during a system upgrade knocks Rogers’ core network offline, leaving more than 10 million wireless customers and another two million home internet customers without service.
July 21, 2022
Staffieri replaces chief technology and information officer Jorge Fernandes, one of the last holdouts from Natale’s team, with company veteran Ron McKenzie.
“They used the outage as a reason to get rid of Jorge,” said one former member of the board and fierce critic of Natale. “He was my pick to be the next CEO.”
Jan. 24, 2023
The Federal Court of Appeal dismisses a bid by Canada’s competition commissioner to block Rogers’ takeover of rival Shaw Communications Inc.
Jan. 26, 2023
Federal Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne, whose approval is needed to finalize the deal, tells the Star he doesn’t plan to rush his decision.
“As the regulator,” he said, “I am not bound by any deadline.”
Who’s really in charge at Rogers? On the cusp of the Shaw merger, CEO Tony Staffieri speaks out on the massive outage and the infamous ‘butt dial’
Early on the morning of July 8, 2022, about an hour after Rogers’ networks collapsed, throwing more than 10 million Canadians offline, snarling debit and credit card machines and blocking access for many to 911, Tony Staffieri, Rogers’ still new CEO, put on a playlist, stepped on a treadmill and prepared for a pre-dawn run in his multimillion-dollar waterfront home on the south end of Lake Simcoe.Staffieri, who is 58 years old, wakes up between 4:30 and 5 a.m. during the week. He tries to run three miles every morning before checking his phone or returning emails. It’s a habit he picked up in September 2021, after Rogers fired him as chief financial officer and before Rogers rehired him as chief executive officer in a fittingly strange coda to the messy family drama that consumed the company that fall. Staffieri was only out of work for about six weeks in 2021, but it was the longest stretch he’d gone without a job since he graduated from York University in 1986. He spent the time at home considering job offers, ignoring media requests and, for the first time in a long time, running.“During COVID, probably like a lot of people, I gained a bit of weight,” he said, in a recent interview at Rogers headquarters in Toronto. “I took the opportunity to knock off the weight real fast.” In fact, he lost so much weight so fast that several former colleagues, when they later saw him on TV, wondered if he’d been ill.On the lake that morning in July, Staffieri finished his run, did a quick weightlifting session, then turned on his phone. His emails wouldn’t load, he said, so he flipped to a newspaper app; it was stuck on stories from the day before, July 7, when Boris Johnson announced his resignation as prime minister of the U.K.Staffieri didn’t panic right away. “First reaction is, ‘Is it me?’ ” he said. He turned on the radio and when the news came on, he found out like everyone else: Rogers Communications, the company he fought an ugly battle to run, was in the midst of a catastrophic network meltdown.
1The cipherThe Great Rogers Network Collapse of 2022 served as an unwelcome coming-out party for Staffieri. Though he had been the permanent CEO for almost six months by that point, he remained something of a phantom to the public. He led a $32-billion corporation that touches more than 25 per cent of Canadians every day. He came to power following perhaps the strangest, most publicly embarrassing business feud in Canadian history. Yet compared to rivals like Darren Entwistle at Telus, or his predecessors at Rogers, Joe Natale and Guy Laurence, Staffieri was a blank — even to some who had worked closely with him for years.“He is a cipher,” said one former Rogers executive who counts himself a Staffieri fan. “He’s always had a pretty low profile.”The network outage forced a reluctant Staffieri into the public eye for the first time. After ignoring press through all the drama that brought him to power and the first six months of his reign, he spent much of July on television, apologizing, explaining and appearing before an indignant parliamentary committee. And yet, strangely, six months on from that media blitz and a full year into his already tumultuous tenure as CEO, Staffieri remains an outline, sketched in pencil, to much of the broader public. Even now, with Rogers seemingly on the brink of finally acquiring rival Shaw Communications — a deal that would put Staffieri in charge of one of the largest telecom companies in the world outside the U.S. — many still view him as little more than a proxy for the man who hired him, company chair Edward Rogers.
“He’s operating in a very, very large shadow.”
Over the past several months, the Star has spoken to dozens of people close to Staffieri, including current and former Rogers board members, senior executives, mid-level employees, telecom insiders and Staffieri himself. The portrait of Staffieri that emerged is one of such remarkable contrasts it can hardly be called a single portrait at all.To Staffieri’s enemies he is an underqualified and disloyal climber, a man defined not so much by his own qualities as by his willingness to go along with another man’s schemes. To others who have worked closely with him, he is a diligent, numbers-focused executive who understands and — unlike his predecessors — has no problem with the fact Rogers will always be shaped by the family that gave the company its name.What unites those disparate visions is a sense that, for all his plans, Staffieri will still sink or swim in this job based on the whims of his boss, the family scion who hand-picked him for the job. Edward Rogers has now anointed three CEOs in under a decade. He grew tired of the previous two in less than eight years combined. Staffieri’s challenge then is to pull off something his predecessors never could: to keep his job, keep Edward happy and still somehow lead a lagging giant through a massive merger.“He’s operating in a very, very large shadow,” said a former company executive who played no role in the Rogers feud. “I guess the big, big question to try to answer is, is he his own CEO?”
2‘He likes to win’On Sept. 29, 2021, Rogers sent out a quiet news release announcing the departure of Staffieri as CFO. The timing, to many in the industry, was strange. The company was in the midst of the $26-billion Shaw takeover. As CFO, Staffieri was considered crucial to financing the deal and executing the merger. “I was very surprised, and shocked to be honest,” said Jeff Fan, who covered Rogers for 19 years as an analyst at Scotiabank. “Throughout that whole thing I was surprised, until more details came out.”Staffieri’s dismissal was the first public shot fired in a fight that still divides the Rogers family to this day. The finer details of the feud remain disputed. But what almost everyone agrees on is this: Staffieri emerged on top at least in part because of his relationship with Edward Rogers, Ted Rogers’ only son and the chair of the Rogers Control Trust, a corporate vehicle that has power over the family’s controlling shares in the company.Staffieri joined Rogers in 2011. He survived as CFO through four different CEOs (including the late Alan Horn, who held the job on an interim basis in 2016-17). Over those years, according to multiple sources, he developed and maintained a close partnership with Edward. “Tony … was a constant through a lot of evolution,” said a second former company executive. “That says a lot, I think, about his capability to navigate (Rogers) and the trust he had with the family … And I say family, but obviously in today’s context, that pretty much means Edward.”Those who have come through the company over the years have different takes on that relationship. Some saw it as an attempt by Staffieri to curry favour with Edward and eventually win the top job; others saw it as nothing more than Staffieri doing the job he already had. “Everybody at that level eventually aspires to be a CEO,” said a third executive in the company who worked closely with Staffieri. “But there was never any sense that I had, whatsoever, that he was there to usurp authority.”What few from either side have dwelled on, though, is just how unlikely a pair Staffieri and Edward make. Though they both exist now at the peak of Canadian business, their paths to that summit could not have been more different.Edward Rogers grew up rich, in the shadow of his dad, Ted, one of Canada’s wealthiest and most flamboyant businessmen. Staffieri grew up in the northwest corner of Toronto, the son of a construction worker turned restaurant equipment salesman from a small town in Italy.Edward was always going to work for Rogers. Coming out of high school, Staffieri only knew he didn’t want to work for his dad. “It was an option, and I really didn’t want to do it,” he said. Still, when asked why he and Edward have been able to work so well together, Staffieri, perhaps surprisingly, cited their fathers. “I never had the opportunity to meet Ted, but from the sounds of it he thought about his business 24/7, even when he went home … which is very similar to our household,” he said. “Everything revolved around the family business. And so I think that entrepreneurial background is very similar.”It may also be true that Staffieri, who more than one long-time colleague has described as a “hard-ass,” reminds Edward of his famously uncompromising dad. “If you’re a nice person, you’re probably not going be a CFO,” said a fourth former executive. “That’s part of the role. You’ve got to be tough.”
“If you’re a nice person, you’re probably not going be a CFO.”
At Rogers, Staffieri developed a reputation as a money hawk — a senior executive with an exacting focus on results. “I don’t know whether it goes back to how he was raised as a kid, or his experience in sports or whatever. But he always likes to win,” said Phil Hartling, Rogers president of wireless and a long-time company executive. “The conversations with him are always about winning in the market.”That attitude didn’t always earn him friends at Rogers. But Staffieri, even in his personal life, has never been shy about stepping on toes to get what he wants. Staffieri and his wife bought their first home, a small ranch-style bungalow on a big lot in Richmond Hill, when Staffieri was still working his first job, at Price Waterhouse (which later became PwC). They loved the house, Staffieri said. But it had severe water problems in the basement, so they decided to tear it down, divide the lot, and build two new houses on the land.The Town of Richmond Hill initially denied the couple’s application for a zoning variance. So Staffieri, all of 27 years old, took the town to the Ontario Municipal Board. At the hearing, he subpoenaed Richmond Hill’s own city planner to testify against the town. Staffieri won, in the end, but he didn’t make many friends. His neighbours told the board his plan was going to “destroy” the character of their street and cause “irreversible damage” to the neighbourhood.That fight was a sign of things to come for Staffieri and his wife. In the years since, they’ve been involved in at least three other court battles over their various homes, including, in 2011, a lawsuit related to the “custom pool, spa and related water features” at their $7.2-million mansion in Vaughan.At work, too, Staffieri has never been afraid of a fight, according to many who have worked with him. To some, that was part of the job. He was the CFO of a large public corporation. It’s not supposed to be easy to spend other people’s cash. But for others, Staffieri went beyond the normal discipline and rigour of a finance boss. Still, when Rogers began to tear itself apart in 2021, Staffieri was perhaps uniquely prepared to weather the storm. He doesn’t shy away from conflict. More importantly he’s not all that concerned with being liked — a trait that would prove especially helpful when Staffieri woke up to discover that his name had become synonymous with a global joke.
3‘There was no butt dial’On Oct. 21, 2021, the Globe and Mail reported a story that continues to define Staffieri in the public eye. It was about three weeks after the Rogers feud became public. Details of the behind-the-scenes battle had begun to trickle out. But one mystery still remained: How did Joe Natale learn that Edward Rogers planned to replace him as CEO?By the summer of 2021, Rogers’ share price had been lagging for several years. The majority of the board didn’t blame Natale for that. (Torstar chair David Peterson was on the Rogers board at the time.) They had bought into the veteran telecom leader’s vision of a broader turnaround for the company. But according to multiple sources with knowledge of the events, Edward Rogers, along with other members of the board’s powerful finance committee, had begun to grow impatient.“It’s kind of real simple, if you’re not performing, then changes usually need to be made,” said Robert Gemmell, an independent director who served on the finance committee at the time, along with Edward, Alan Horn and Edward’s sister Melinda. “I might have been more of an agitator than most, but certainly Edward, Alan and myself kind of felt the same way.”Eventually, that group decided among themselves that Natale had to go. That in itself wasn’t a complete shock. Rogers had already cycled through three permanent CEOs in the 12 years since Ted Rogers had died. But the fact Edward settled on Staffieri as his replacement was more of a surprise. “He was a decent CFO. I always enjoyed working with him,” said one long-time telecom analyst. “But I never saw him as an operational guy. And Rogers has massive operational problems.”(“He has a firm grasp of the operations,” counters Gemmell. “Just look at the performance of the company since he’s taken over.”)It remains an open question when exactly Edward first approached Staffieri about the job. “I think that probably is a question more for board members and Edward, just because of the confidential nature of that stuff,” Staffieri said. But by late summer, the plan, with Staffieri’s buy-in, was in place. Edward would present the succession as a fait accompli to the full board. Natale would be quietly ushered out and Staffieri would step in.But then Natale discovered the plot and everything went to hell.According to the Globe story, Natale learned of the plan to unseat him when he was accidentally patched into a call between Staffieri and former Rogers lawyer David Miller. Multiple sources later told the Star several slightly different versions of the same story: that Staffieri had, figuratively if not literally, butt-dialled his boss, accidentally revealing the nascent coup. John MacDonald, at the time the lead independent director on the Rogers board, backed up that story in court. He wrote in an affidavit filed as part of the feud that Natale told him he spent about 21 minutes listening in on a phone call between Staffieri and someone he believed to be Miller. Loretta Rogers, Edward’s mother and Ted’s widow, made the same claim in another affidavit filed in the case, that Natale had called Staffieri, who had inadvertently picked up and left him on the line while laying out the details of the plan.At the time, the butt dial made international news. It tied into a broader narrative that painted the Rogers feud as a kind of hillbilly “Succession,” a war among billionaire siblings that was at once incredibly high stakes and comically low rent. Both sides in the dispute were gushing leaks by that point, painting each other in the media as naïve, incompetent, scheming and, in Staffieri’s case, all of the above. But Staffieri himself, stuck at the lake (or his $6-million condo in the Four Seasons Hotel) running off the pounds, never said a word. “I think he had Edward saying to him, ‘You have my word, I’m going to sort this out,’ ” said Alek Krstajic, a former Rogers executive who remains close to Edward. “But it would have been really hard to read that stuff in the papers and then to try to explain to your family, ‘No, this isn’t true.’ ”Even after Edward won in court, replaced the dissenting board and fired Natale, Staffieri stayed mum. Before his interview with the Star, he had never publicly addressed the issue at all. Even then, on most aspects of the feud, he had little to say. But there was one point he did address head on.“The facts are the facts,” Staffieri said. “There was no butt dial.” In fact, he said, there was no overheard call at all. The entire story — about Natale listening in on the details of the coup — was made up, he said. “There was no call to Joe,” he said. “There was no call by accident to Joe.”
“I think he handled himself with great dignity as the events played out.”
The butt-dial story, those close to Edward Rogers believe, was invented to cover for the fact Natale should not have known about confidential board discussions when he did. In their view, Staffieri became collateral damage. “This was a guy whose reputation was being absurdly impugned by some members on the previous board, and by our ex-CEO, and it was all fiction and fabrication,” said Gemmell, who is now Rogers’ lead independent director. “Yet Tony had the strength of character not to respond emotionally. I think he handled himself with great dignity as the events played out, unlike some others in the process.”Regardless, by November 2021, it was all over. On Nov. 16, Natale left the company; Staffieri was named interim CEO. He got the job permanently on Jan. 11, 2022.Many who are close to Natale saw Staffieri’s appointment as an absurd choice. They believe he was rewarded for loyalty to Edward and not much else. But the Rogers feud left so many feeling so bitter it can be hard to separate fact from fiction on Staffieri. Both sides have a tendency to talk about him less like a real person than like the new guy in an ugly breakup; depending on the source, he’s either a monster or a saint.There is a third group, though: telecom insiders who stayed on the sidelines as Rogers tore itself apart. Among that cohort, there are many who saw Staffieri as a competent, even an excellent, CFO. But not everyone believes a good CFO necessarily makes a great CEO. It’s an experience question, sure. But it’s also about leadership and personality. And in the early days of his tenure, some at the company wondered if Staffieri had enough of either trait to survive.
4Cleaning houseIn the early winter of 2022, as Omicron tore through Canada, Staffieri prepared to meet his new charges, virtually, as permanent CEO. The Star spoke to five separate sources who were present online for Staffieri’s early meetings and the words they chose to describe them ranged, with little variance, from “awkward” to “disaster,” especially when compared to his predecessor.Even Natale’s critics mostly acknowledge he has a gift for communication. Mid-level employees who spoke to the Star praised his ability to sell a team on his singular vision for customer service. Staffieri, to put it bluntly, is not that guy. “He’s a career accountant,” said one former Rogers executive and Staffieri fan.During one address, Staffieri sat at a boardroom table looking stiff and uncomfortable as the camera panned between different members of the new executive team. According to employees who watched the presentation, he spoke less like a natural leader and more like a man who had taken a crash course in corporate communications. “Him compared to a Guy Laurence or a Joe Natale, you’re looking at a huge difference,” said a former company official. “But he is light years ahead of where he was.”(A Rogers spokesperson said employee surveys show Staffieri has improved greatly as a communicator since his first address.)Before becoming CEO, Staffieri had never held a truly public-facing position. His job as CFO was to speak to Bay Street, to the board, and to the CEO. In that sense, many current and former Rogers employees believe, he served as an effective foil to the gregarious Natale. “Tony allowed Joe to be good cop,” said one former executive. “Because Tony could come in and be bad cop.”Again, as CFO, bad cop, in a lot of cases, was Staffieri’s job. The question some had when he was first appointed, though, is whether he could grow beyond that as CEO. “He was very, very numbers focused. And that’s probably one of his challenges,” said one former senior executive. “He just looks at things and then can make up his mind … and say, ‘You know what, this is not working. And because it’s not working, we’re going to kill the project.’ ”A year into Staffieri’s tenure, reviews are mixed. On a numbers level, Rogers has earned praise under his leadership. “I can tell you that we’ve seen a material improvement in performance for Rogers over the last two, three quarters since Tony took over,” said Maher Yaghi, a telecom and media analyst at Scotiabank. The company stock briefly broke $80 a share last April, an all-time high. “The numbers don’t lie,” Krstajic said. “He is going to keep delivering the numbers. He is fundamentally focused on that.”Internally, though, there has been some friction, according to current and former employees who spoke to the Star. One former senior manager said the company’s ruthless focus on financial performance under Staffieri has come at the cost of long-term investment, in both projects and people. “The way he drove change in the organization was very drastic in the first quarter (of 2021),” the former manager said.Another senior employee, who has since left the company for another job, said everything in her department was “cut to the bone” once Staffieri took over, except for Staffieri’s expectations. “There’s no shortage of work and people have really started to push back and say, ‘This is not feasible, we can’t do this,’ ” the senior employee said. “And I’ve seen it over the last couple of months, just hearing, ‘This person’s leaving. This person’s leaving. This person’s leaving.’ So I don’t really know who’s going to be left.”But while multiple current and former employees told the Star they had witnessed significant churn within their own departments — with, in many cases, the most talented and sought-after employees leaving first — Staffieri said that, company wide, that hasn’t been the case. “We have the people here that we want,” he said.Staffieri added the company hasn’t been cutting spending on his watch as much as it has been redistributing assets. “When you have a larger organization, in my mind, in my experience, you sort of say, let’s stop doing those things and let’s focus and put our money on these things,” he said. “It may come across for some folks as, ‘Well, we’re cutting costs.’ Well, we’re not. We’re just reallocating resources.” Rogers also reported a record capital spend in Staffieri’s first full year in charge.What is indisputable is that, at the executive level, Staffieri cleaned house. By February 2022, Staffieri had already named eight new members to his 10-person executive leadership team. In July, after the network collapse, he named a ninth, replacing chief technology officer Jorge Fernandes with company insider and Shaw veteran Ron McKenzie. “All of Joe’s team got turfed out,” said a former executive who was not involved in the feud. “If you’re really, really good at your role, you’re well thought of, it doesn’t matter. You’re out. It’s a full-on regime change.”The company is quick to point out that many members of the new team have deep Rogers experience. But to Natale’s supporters, that’s the whole point. Natale was trying to modernize a company that, in the words of one critic, had been “paralyzed since the day Ted died,” they argue. The whole shakeup happened, they believe, because the old guard at Rogers could not embrace the change.Regardless of what was going on inside the company, though, by early last summer the noise surrounding Rogers had begun to fade. The strategic leaks from competing siblings had all but dried up and Rogers news, once a mainstay on newspaper fronts, had slunk back to the financial pages.RELATED STORIESFor Staffieri, in July, the company’s priorities were clear: invest in the network, complete the Shaw transaction, and improve customer experience. But then, on the morning of July 8, a piece of wayward code opened Rogers’ core network to a flood of router traffic and all those plans turned to dust.
5 ‘We didn’t know what to say’When Staffieri realized, after his run that July morning, that the Rogers network was out, he knew what to do. Telecom companies build the possibility of network collapse into all their crisis plans. For Rogers, that meant supplying key executives and response personnel with emergency SIM cards from another carrier. But when Staffieri popped the existing SIM out of his Rogers phone, loaded the new one in and tried to log on, nothing happened. “It wasn’t connecting,” he said.Imagine, for an instant, the panic inherent in that moment. You are the CEO of a wireless and internet company. Your wireless and internet networks are down and you have no way of contacting any of the more than 20,000 people who work for you to ask why. Still, for Staffieri, the next step was obvious. Rogers corporate headquarters are in the middle of Toronto, just east of Yonge and Bloor. But all the tech gets run out of a facility in Brampton. So Staffieri hit the road.On his way south from Innisfil, Staffieri made one brief stop, to call Fernandes, the company’s then chief technology officer. “I used Wi-Fi, literally Wi-Fi, from a coffee shop,” Staffieri said. Once in Brampton, he was able to establish a basic link to the network, enough to get his emails working but not his phone. “And that’s where I spent the day,” he said.In the aftermath of the disaster, much of the criticism Rogers faced centred around its communications on the first day of the outage. “Any time you have a crisis like this, one of the things you need to do is speak very quickly and explain what you’re doing, even if you don’t have much to say,” said David Soberman, a professor of strategic marketing at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. “I don’t think they did a very good job.”Customers, though, weren’t the only ones in the dark. According to government sources, no one from federal industry minister François-Philippe Champagne’s office could reach anyone at Rogers during the first hours of the crisis. In his role, Champagne serves as the federal telecom regulator. He also, not incidentally, has final say over the Rogers-Shaw merger.In his interview with the Star, Staffieri was quick to acknowledge that the company could have done a better job communicating during the outage. “We really struggled because we didn’t know what to say, other than we had an outage,” he said. “We still didn’t know the root cause. And we didn’t know, importantly, the ETA, which was the question everyone was asking.” In retrospect, he said, he wishes he had called Champagne earlier. As for the broader public, he understands why so many customers wanted Rogers to say more sooner on the day of the collapse. “And in some cases, I wish that, too,” he said. “I just” — he paused — “we really didn’t know what to say.”
6What he was hired to beJuly’s network collapse served as a Rorschach moment for Staffieri. “When the Rogers power went down, everybody called me and said, ‘Wow, what do you think it is?’ ” said one former member of the Rogers board who opposed Staffieri’s hiring. “And I said, ‘Karma.’ ” For his critics, Staffieri wasn’t the face of the outage initially because he was never hired to be the face of the company. (Something Rogers vehemently denies.) He was brought in instead, they argue, to serve as a kind of CEO-light, a leader who wouldn’t have a problem knowing that Edward was ultimately in charge.Staffieri’s supporters both disagree and — in at least one, fascinating way — they don’t. On the outage, they point to the fact that, for all the bad press, the financial impact for Rogers was pretty marginal. “Could he have done things differently in terms of how he handled it? I mean, maybe. But the thing is, Tony would go over the results and say, ‘I’m still keeping postpaid churn under control. (Average revenue per unit) is still growing.’ So people may not like it. But the results are there,” said one former executive who took no sides in the family dispute.And sure, Staffieri wasn’t out in front, crying crocodile tears for the cameras, but that was never who he was hired to be. He was inside, working through the problem. “I thought the way that he handled it reflected the way that he manages things,” said another former executive. “He’s not going to say anything until he knows what he’s talking about.”And while the outage certainly didn’t help the political fight around the Shaw deal, most investors still believe it will get done in the end. Bloomberg reported in late January that the market had already priced in a 95 per cent chance the merger will succeed.On the larger issue of Edward, Staffieri’s supporters tend to see his attitude as a virtue, not a vice. For better or worse, the court battle in 2021 established that Edward Rogers is in charge of the company. He controls the Rogers Control Trust and that makes him the acting owner. Having a CEO who isn’t just fine with that in principle, but has lived it day in and day out for the past decade as CFO, is an advantage, they believe.“Does he have a better working relationship with Edward and the board?” said another former executive. “Unquestionably. Will Edward and the board have more say in Rogers operations than they did under Guy and Joe? I would say probably yes. But not as much as you’d think. Because Tony just knows intuitively what the values are, what the priorities are.”
7Ted’s ShadowOn a suddenly snowy Friday in December, Staffieri entered a boardroom on the 10th floor of the Rogers building at 333 Bloor St. East. He sat down in a black leather chair at one end of an oval table. Behind him, in a glass display, the ink faded with age, was the contract Ted Rogers signed to buy his first radio station 63 years ago.Staffieri, silver-haired and tanned, with a smooth forehead and crinkled eyes, still has the air of a backstage player adjusting to life outside the wings. In person, he has a habit of dropping personal pronouns, like “I” or “my,” as if he’s always looking for an opportunity to edit himself out of his own story. Staffieri speaks with ease about himself and the business. But on the topic of how he got this job, he’s a bit more reticent. “That’s probably something for the board,” he said. “I just did what I was asked to do. And that’s the role I play.” He hasn’t spoken to his old boss, Joe Natale, since it all went down. He doesn’t understand how the whole thing became so sour. “I don’t know,” he said. “If I were to step back …” He paused. “I was asked to do something, and, um, it just kind of …” He trailed off. “I just can’t speak to the actions of others.”But on the other controversial point, the question of Edward and who is really in charge, Staffieri didn’t hesitate. “I think everybody’s roles are fairly clear,” he said. “If Edward wanted to be CEO then I guess it could have happened. I don’t think that’s what he wants. And he’s told me that’s not what he wants.”After the interview, Staffieri took an elevator to the main lobby, stepped through a set of revolving doors and stood on the sidewalk in the cold. He wore a dark suit with a red Rogers pin on the lapel. He posed for a Star photographer and smiled his slightly crooked smile.Barring a last-minute hiccup in the Shaw deal, Staffieri will soon be in charge of a $50-billion corporation with nearly as many customers as Canada had people in 1960, the year Ted Rogers launched his empire. But on the sidewalk that day, just off the corner of Ted Rogers Way, no one paid him any mind. No one turned to gawk. No one seemed to recognize Staffieri as the man now in charge of it all.SHARE:JOIN THE CONVERSATION Anyone can read Conversations, but to contribute, you should be a registered Torstar account holder. If you do not yet have a Torstar account, you can create one now (it is free)Sign InRegisterConversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the
You have to be careful making confident-sounding prognostications about technology.In 2007, then-CEO of Microsoft Steve Ballmer famously dismissed the iPhone — it didn’t even have a keyboard! — and we all know how that turned out. History is littered with assertions that some new innovation is pointless or doomed, only for it to then take over the world.Yet, despite years of covering technology and knowing just how hard the future is to predict, I still insist on living dangerously and arguing that virtual reality or VR simply isn’t going to be the “next big thing” in tech.Virtual reality is the term given to tech that completely immerses your senses in a virtual world with a headset that projects images into your eyes and sound into your ears.It sounds very futuristic, but there’s increasing evidence that such technology is far less desirable than it appears. It was reported this week that electronics giant Sony recently halved production of its latest PSVR2 headset after low preorder numbers indicated weak demand. The Bloomberg article reporting the news suggested that the move “exacerbates lacklustre momentum for (the) VR sector.”So, fine: early technology isn’t selling well. That was true of MP3 players and 2-in-1 laptops, too, and they eventually got popular. The low uptake for VR is also understandable: the current tech is both clunky and heavy, while also lacking the sort of visual fidelity to be truly immersive.Those, however, are problems that almost undoubtedly will be solved with time. Technology shrinks and its capability grows; that seems inevitable.Rather, what plagues virtual reality is its central premise: that people want to be immersed in a digital world that cuts them off from their own. It is not only inconvenient and, for social applications, far less compelling than traditional devices — it is also fundamentally escapist and niche, and misses what people actually want out of techYou wouldn’t know it looking at some big tech companies, though. Meta rebranded entirely around the promise of a virtual reality “metaverse” — think, 3D Facebook — and has poured billions into the idea. Microsoft has committed to Meta’s vision, while everyone from Apple and Amazon to Nvidia is actively investing in the concept. For big tech, the arrival of VR and the metaverse is fait accompli.There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical, and not just because Sony can’t sell headsets — or that Meta, despite investing billions into VR, has almost nothing to show for it.For one, think of the practical use case. In order to virtually socialize with friends, one would have to put on a headset and log on to a virtual world, only to see cartoon representations of them. It’s not only awkward from a practical standard, it’s also far less appealing than a simple video call in which one can still move unimpeded.Secondly, the assumption is that because we adopted smartphones so easily, any tech that purports to connect or immerse us will be as eagerly used. That’s a mistake. Part of the reason a smartphone is so universal is because it is portable, but also adaptive without being isolating — that is, you can use it at home, on transit, at work, at a park, all while remaining aware of one’s surroundings and connected to them. The same cannot be said of a VR headset.That is not to say that there are no virtual reality applications with a bright future. To the contrary, gaming will continue to evolve and become more appealing. And corporate or professional applications will undoubtedly be useful. Imagine immersing oneself in a 3D design of a building or being able to peer into a virtual replica of an industrial machine. That part of VR is immensely promising.But there is a chasm of difference between those limited implementations and VR becoming the next great thing in tech. That matters because, too often, people are sold a bill of goods by tech companies promising the world, but who are lost in their own dreams of domination.Consider: This holiday season, it was impossible to get away from a thoroughly annoying ad campaign for Canadian Tire’s VR Tree Decorator — an inexplicable app for the tiny fraction of Canadians who own VR headsets to plan out their decorations on a virtual Christmas tree.The whole enterprise would have been funny had it not in fact presented an image of Christmas so achingly sad: a lone mum or dad, plugging a headset into a computer in order to find a specific app, and then decorating a virtual tree with virtual ornaments — all so they could eventually get around to doing the same in real life.Technology might be notoriously hard to predict. But if that’s a sample of what VR has to offer us, it’s seems plain as day that it’s not only not the next big thing, but may barely be a thing at all.SHARE:JOIN THE CONVERSATION Anyone can read Conversations, but to contribute, you should be a registered Torstar account holder. If you do not yet have a Torstar account, you can create one now (it is free)Sign InRegisterConversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the
David Olive: Alberta’s oilpatch is making record billions. So why should we pay for their carbon capture plant?
So far, 2023 is shaping up as another year of booming profits for the Alberta oilpatch and another year of industry sloth in making a start on its promised reductions of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). The Pathways Alliance of Alberta’s six biggest heavy oil producers is planning a $16.5-billion carbon capture and storage (CCS) plant in northern Alberta to sequester greenhouse gas emissions deep underground. And the industry wants Canadians to pick up two-thirds of the tab, or about $10.9 billion. Ottawa refuses, and the parties are at an impasse. The standoff over corporate welfare is grating, since the oilsands industry has reaped record profits in each of the past two years. And it is heading into another year of outsized profits in 2023. Ottawa is infuriated that the industry is using a great deal of those profits to buy back corporate shares and pay increased dividends to shareholders, rather than committing it to decarbonization projects. Returns to shareholders among the Pathways Alliance companies have quadrupled since 2019.Neither is the industry motivated by the boom to increase investment in upgraded production facilities and employment, a first in the industry’s history. The Pathways member companies alone will post total profits for 2021 and 2022 of about $50 billion. It would thus appear that the oilpatch has the money to pay for its CCS plant three times over with its own money rather than dinging the Canadian public. But the industry views its record profits as a windfall from the post-pandemic economic recovery and the war in Ukraine. Those are one-time events which, in the industry’s view, provide no assurance of a long-term return on investment from decarbonization megaprojects. And the Alberta industry is still recovering the 2010s plunge in the world oil price and the pandemic collapse in oil demand and prices. But Ottawa doesn’t share that perspective. Having already provided the oilpatch with tax breaks and other financial incentives to decarbonize, the feds are balking at the oilpatch’s demand that Canadians shoulder even more of the cost of reducing pollution from the country’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Steven Guilbeault, the federal environment minister, doesn’t see the rationale for not proceeding with decarbonization during boom times. “If not now, then I don’t know when,” he said. Like Ottawa, Alberta is already helping fund oilpatch decarbonization with recent amendments to its emission reduction regulations. In December, Premier Danielle Smith introduced new financial credits for CCS. That means oil producers can reap Alberta tax incentives and those provided by the $7.1 billion federal CCS incentive program Ottawa launched last year. Producers are now in line to receive two financial credits for the same unit of greenhouse gas emissions they don’t release into the atmosphere. The oilsands producers regard CCS as a silver bullet, expecting the half-century-old technology to do most of the work of decarbonization. But CCS, long used to extract more oil from existing oilfields, has a poor track record for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In a report last year, the Ohio-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) found that 10 of the 13 major CCS facilities worldwide accounting for 55 per cent of global carbon capture failed to deliver on their promised benefits. That includes the Boundary Dam CCS project in Saskatchewan, flagship of the Canadian CCS sector. The IEEFA estimates that the project has missed its carbon capture target by about 50 per cent over its lifetime. “Many international bodies and national governments are relying on carbon capture in the fossil fuel sector to get to Net Zero, and it simply won’t work,” says Bruce Robertson, energy finance analyst at the IEEFA. RELATED STORIESAlberta’s Pembina Institute initially greeted the Canadian industry’s stated CCS plans with optimism. But now the respected think tank questions Pathways commitment. “While the pledges and promises of the Pathways Alliance may have given the impression that action on this front is imminent or already underway,” the institute said in a report last fall, “our analysis demonstrates that oilsands companies have yet to make the necessary investment decisions.” It might be, as some industry observers have suggested, that the oilpatch will have to sense that its days are numbered before it decarbonizes to compete with all the new clean energy coming on-stream. That might be so. But with all the money in the world the oilpatch simply can’t decarbonize in any meaningful way in less than a decade. By that point, an abundance of clean energy and the electrification of everything, not just vehicles, will diminish the centrality of oil, as even some in the industry acknowledge.That’s an argument — or forecast — for investing more public dollars in clean energy (and health care and housing) and for Alberta to diversify away from oil. Though no one in the oilpatch will say it, that forecast also helps explain a waning industry’s reluctance to invest in its future. SHARE: