Interview Date: December 2, 2015
Interview Location: New York, NY
Interviewer: Seth Arenstein
Collection: Cable Center Oral History Program
Arenstein: Hi, I’m Seth Arenstein for the Hauser Oral History Project of the Cable Center. It’s December 2, 2015. We’re here in New York City with Phil Lind, the Vice-Chairman of Rogers. Phil, welcome.
For you this has got to be easy because one of the things you did in your career, your illustrious career, you hosted a live call-in show that essentially as you described it was consumers talking about complaints about their cable service. You did that for thirty years live. I mean, let’s start off with that. What was that like? What kind of questions did people throw at you? How did it come about and why did it…?
Lind: Ted Rogers thought that this would be a pretty good idea, because we pioneered community television together. So I started doing it with Colin Watson of Canadian Cable Systems and then of course then we bought Canadian Cable Systems, so Colin was then in our fold. We hooked up Toronto initially but then throughout Ontario, the last delivered site, a million-and-a-half, two million customers—live. We did it once a month. It got pretty hot and heavy sometimes.
Arenstein: So what kind of questions would be lobbed at you?
Lind: Mainly service questions, of course—that’s what we do and that’s what people can complain about. You know, they constantly call up and say, “You know, I was promised a service call at such-and-such a time. The guy hasn’t come; it’s been a week.” And everything like that. But occasionally you’d have things like, for example, one person complained that once a cable installer was drilling up from the basement and drilled into his piano leg and he couldn’t understand why this was so thick. One guy complained he had painted his house white, brand-new basement, and the cable guy had strung cable wire across the front of his house. These things you can’t imagine. We couldn’t imagine because there were our guys, these were our people. And they watched the show, too, because they knew that as soon as we got off the show…
Arenstein: They were going to get a call.
Lind: We’d be real mad. Occasionally we’d get compliments but I think the best part about it was that people thought that we cared enough and people gave us a little extra because we were brave enough to do this and I think it was good. It’s great for customers to see this.
Arenstein: Absolutely. Pardon me for dwelling on this right at the beginning of your oral history, but today it seems to me at least that we hear the concept about companies and brands of transparency and “tell people what’s going on.” You guys were doing that years ago, it seems. How did the idea for this show come about and how were you picked to be the host? You just didn’t get out of the way fast enough, is that what happened? Or did you volunteer?
Lind: No, Ted Rogers was the instigator of this.
Arenstein: You used a good word there: instigator.
Lind: Ted and I did it for a while. Ted used to brag that he’d done it for years but he really didn’t do it for years. But he really didn’t do it for years. But he came up with the idea.
Arenstein: It was a great idea.
Lind: Once we had Colin, it was all right. That was perfect because Colin was an engineer, too. So Colin understood the technical side of the—and I didn’t and still don’t, but I understood the programming side and things like that. So it was a good mix.
Arenstein: And it went on for thirty years. What was the impetus to say, “You know we’ve had a thirty-year run, we should stop.”
Lind: Colin left the company and then there wasn’t much push afterwards. Then when Ted died, of course, that was the end of it for sure. And now people think it’s kind of corny. You know, our executives think it’s kind of corny to do that. But I stand by it.
Arenstein: Last question about that and then I’ll leave you alone on this. You did the show for thirty years, three decades, from the start of the show to the end of the show before you were going to get in the studio. What was your demeanor like at the beginning of the thirty years and then toward the end? In other words, it was a total curveball. I mean, you didn’t know what was coming at you; it was a live show.
Lind: That’s right.
Arenstein: How did you feel at the beginning and did it get better toward the end?
Lind: You never knew so we were always on our guard. I remember one guy called up and said, “Mr. Lind, what are you paid? And what are you paid, Mr. Watson? What’s your bonus?” And everything. This is all publicly disclosed, but it’s different when it…so the guy said, “Well, I’m paid $35,000 a year.”
Arenstein: You mean the guy on the phone said that?
Lind: So he wanted to say, “Look, you guys are well paid, how come…?”
Arenstein: My cable doesn’t work as well as it should.
Arenstein: But even at the end, let’s say, thirty years down the road when you were going into the studio. Was there still a little bit of…?
Lind: We never knew.
Arenstein: You never knew. Little bit of nervousness or…?
Lind: Always. I mean, we were relaxed about the program, but we knew that at any moment, something could happen that would be very memorable. One time a guy called up and you know occasionally our friends would call him and one guy was—I knew a guy who could imitate everything and he was making Indian voices and this and that and the other thing. But one time we started a little bit of a laugh because we knew this guy and we knew what was coming, only this was a real call and, oh, my God. And we had on at the time that a guy from the CTRC [Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission], so we were kind of smirking and he was going like this. It was real. Oh, my God, I just about died. So we had some embarrassing moments.
Arenstein: That’s live television. Other than sports, there’s not much live television left, is there?
I guess the debates, some of the political debates and some of the new shows but even some of those are taped and shown a half hour later or something like that. All right, so we’ve skipped ahead and I apologize but you know, the thirty years of a call-in show and it sounds to me like an idea that was so ahead of its time, I had to jump on that. I’m sorry. So let’s go back to the beginning. Phil, you’re Canadian-born. Tell us where you were born.
Lind: I was born in Toronto. I went to school, university, I went two years…we lived in Toronto so two years in Montreal to get to know Montreal and then two years in Vancouver to get to know. So by the time I graduated B.A., I had a pretty good understanding of Canada. Then I went to school in the States, then I came back. And I worked for a political party for nine months for so. Then I was sort of interested in the media. I thought the media was where I should end up. Ted Rogers spoke to me and said, “Come to work for me.” I sort of knew him a little bit. He was ten years older, but I knew him a little bit and I knew him to be slightly nuts.
Arenstein: Slightly nuts, OK.
Lind: Most people thought that way. So he said to me, “Look, Phil, I’ll pay you a good salary. But friends don’t work for friends so we’ll try it a year at a time, a year at a time. And we’ll see how it goes.” Right till the end we were on a year-by-year-by-year basis, but we were incredibly close, incredibly close.
Arenstein: So a series of one-year contracts.
Lind: We didn’t really sign them; this is what we thought. It was a lifetime commitment on my part.
Arenstein: I’m going to throw in a baseball reference because I know you’re a baseball fan and you have an interest and we’ll get to that later, but the old manager of the Dodgers, Walter Alston, also used to assign a series of one-year contracts and he did it for twenty or thirty years. Anyway, we’ll get to the baseball part later.
You were at the University of Rochester here in the U.S. And U.S. and Canada relations has been a theme of your whole life. I have to ask you; I noticed recently that you gave a huge donation to the University of British Columbia for the Lind Initiative in U.S. Studies.
Lind: We’ll, I’ve done two. I’ve done a Chair in U.S. Studies and then this latest thing, the Initiative. The Initiative is kind of interesting because we take a really big star, U.S. star, and we put them at the campus for one term. And this year was Joseph Stiglitz.
Arenstein: The economist.
Lind: You know, from Columbia.
Arenstein: Nobel Prize winner.
Lind: That’s right. Because Yale, Princeton, Harvard, they all get these guys all the time. They just root around. California not so much and the Pacific Northwest, not at all. So I felt we should have the best up there so the students could learn from them. He or she does one public lecture, but mainly it’s the students.
Arenstein: That’s great. But I wanted to get back to U.S. and Canada. I recently saw a question, I don’t know, on a quiz show or something where they were saying that Americans know very, very little about Canada and I’m guessing Canadians know a lot more about America than Americans know about Canada. So the question was how many territories and provinces are there in Canada…
Lind: You wouldn’t know.
Arenstein: I don’t know.
Lind: No, no one knows.
Arenstein: But I bet if I asked Canadians how many states there are in the U.S., most of them would know.
Lind: Fifty. There’s a tremendous knowledge of and yearning for learning about the United States in Canada. But as we’ll see as we discuss when we came down to the United States, there’s not a hell of a lot of Canadians who make a success in the United States. There are Canadians who make individual successes all the time, but corporations, no. Not so much, almost none. You’ve got the TD here and certain companies do, but most fail because the Canadian landscape is different than the American landscape. It’s easier in Canada, it’s much tougher in the United States. And what we’re trying to do with the chair and I was motivated by my philosophy by being down here, we’ve got to know more about the United States than we think we know.
Arenstein: You said it’s much harder in the U.S. to make a success. What makes it so difficult here? Is it regulation?
Lind: No, I don’t quite know. It’s the psyche of the American—it’s more competitive, it’s more talkative, more argumentative, more forceful, that kind of thing. Canadians are much more modest, much more low-key, don’t like to brag, don’t like to talk about themselves. Even if they’ve done a great thing, they don’t really talk about it that much. Whereas Americans do. And so they just have to learn the difference between the two countries.
We can get to that or we can get to it now. We started off at Rogers very small.
Arenstein: When you walked in the door, there were fewer than 200 employees.
Lind: 180 employees.
Lind: For the first ten years or so we were trying to build up our company and we did that through technical innovation and through programming innovation. And then in 1978-79, we started getting real ambitious—Ted did. So we got Canadian Cable Systems with a hostile takeover, very, very tough. And then Premier Cablevision right after so very soon after that we had like over a million-and-a-half customers. That was it. The Canadian regulatory situation, you know the CRTC said to us, “That’s it, boys. You’re not going to get any more cable in Canada.” So we had to go to the States. And so I led the charge. Colin Watson was the operations guy. I did getting the franchise, working with the officials and in the programming and marketing field, too, I was. We were a great combination.
But the interesting thing about the U.S. was it was tough as hell during the franchising era. I mean, tough as hell. Now Ted said, “170 people want cable franchises, apply for 170 and you’ll probably get a couple.” I said, “You won’t get any that way—none—because everyone is competitive, everyone is tough. So let’s concentrate and we’ll concentrate on cities that do not have an anti-Canadian or an anti-British bias. For example, Staten Island, no. Boston, no. Omaha, no.” We concentrated on Minneapolis because Minneapolis is fair, it’s nice, it’s about as Canadian as you get in the United States. And then there’s Oregon. So Portland, the same. Then we went down to California and we got a lot of franchises in Orange County. There it was a question of, “I don’t care who the hell you are.”
Arenstein: Just give me my service.
Lind: Only when people, for example, if we won the franchise and somebody on the other side said, “Well, we’ll go to a plebiscite or a referendum.” We would lose sometimes because they would say we’re foreigners so, no. It was a very delicate balance. Franchising in the States was tough for two reasons. One because it’s generally tough, and two, because we were Canadians, we were outsiders. We had advantages because we had community programming and we had big sign systems: disadvantaged Canadian, foreigner. It was really tough and my relations with the NCTA were such that I was a keen member of the NCTA, but they were actively campaigning in the first cable bill for foreign exclusion. It was only because a curious incident: we had talked to a guy I remember on the Watergate Commission, Fred Thompson, 28, 29-year-old guy, Republican. Great guy. I remembered him. I went down and this was a year or two before the Cable Act was really hot, and I said, “Come work for us. Be a lobbyist for us.” “OK.” So, fine. So then a year or two later, when it came to the crunch, Howard Baker, also from Tennessee, was now elected to the Senate majority so things were moving in the cable bill but then the NCTA said, “OK, we’ve got to get to Howard Baker. We’ve got to get to Howard Baker to get this thing through.” Some bright guy said, “Fred Thompson was a great pal of his.” So they went down to see Fred Thompson and Fred said, “I’d love to help you out, boys…”
Arenstein: In his big, deep voice.
Lind: “I’d like to help you out, boys. But I can’t. I’ve got a cable client.” A cable client in Tennessee? Knoxville? Who would that be? He said, “Actually it’s a Canadian.” And I said, “Oh, God. Wouldn’t you know it?” So I said to them, “OK, well, you take this out of the bill, foreign exclusion out of the cable bill, and Fred Thompson is yours…”
Arenstein: That’s horse trading.
Lind: We had to. And our political consultants down here were best friends with Mondale and with Ronald Reagan. Stuart’s mentor was our consultant in Southern California; I mean, you couldn’t get any better than that. We tried to play the angles but so did everyone else. We had a tougher road because we were Canadian.
Arenstein: Speaking about playing the angles, as you alluded to, I believe you’re the only Canadian who’s ever been on the NCTA Board.
Arenstein: I guess at some point you must have felt as welcome as a skunk at a lawn party there because people are trying to get you out because you’re a member of the club.
Lind: Except that once we had put that aside, once franchising was over, we were thick as thieves. I don’t whether thieves is a good…but we were certainly great friends. But Bill Bresnan, for example, Bill Bresnan was thrown out of Canada in Sault Ste Marie. The CRTC threw him out. And Sammons in the eastern townships. Threw him out of the country. They had a burning desire to remedy things and there I come down and say, “Be my friend.” But anyway we solved everything. As soon as franchising was over, man, we were all just like brothers.
Arenstein: And you became very friendly with people like John Malone and Brian Roberts, and Ralph Roberts. Talk about—I know you had a funny story one time about John Malone always sitting next to you at the board meetings…
Lind: Because we had this interactive, this two-way system that no one else had at the time. I mean, Hauser said he did but with this Warner thing, I never saw any results of it. And what we did with this two-way thing was we’d flash every house every second. So we could see everything they were doing. We saw things, for example, like HBO would be in second or third place at certain times of the day. And Black Entertainment Television, all these things which everyone thought were feeble, lousy things or were minority, minority, minority were really very popular. So John would look down this thing: “Very interesting. I guess I better get into the programming business.”
Lind: Which he did, and God bless him for it. This is one of the few terrible frustrations we had in Canada. The cable companies were not allowed into the programming business like they were in the States.
Arenstein: That must have changed, right?
Lind: Ten years ago or something. But right from the get-go, down here they were all over the programming area as they should have been…but in Canada, no, just the broadcasters, just the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, just CTV Broadcasting Corporation. We were just the cable underdogs; we were the…
Arenstein: Utility guys.
Lind: We were worse because we imported American programming into Canada which is—even though the Canadian broadcasters programmed it, as long as it was on their networks, fine. But if we brought it in from Seattle or Detroit or from Buffalo, not fine. Not fine at all.
Arenstein: It’s funny that you’re saying all this because so many times you say, “Canada, our neighbor to the north.” And I guess sometimes it’s not such a friendly relationship. I always think of it as a very friendly relationship.
Lind: Of course it is, but the governments tend not to respond in the same fashion sometimes. Canadians are very worried about Canadian programming. The simple fact is out of the twenty most popular programs in Canada—sports excluded for a second—they’re all American. So all the money that the Canadian government puts into programming, and supporting the CBC and everything like that, the fact is almost no one watches it. So they watch—Canadians watch Rich Little, you know, I mean, hundreds of comedians.
Arenstein: John Candy.
Lind: John Candy. All of these people are huge successes, but they don’t watch Canadian programming very much. So Americans—it’s a two-edge sword. Everyone loves it but it hurts the Canadian programming industry. That’s the problem there. But it’s one of those things: we’re bordered…unless, of course, Donald Trump gets in; then we have a big fence between…
Arenstein: Who is going to build that? Is Trump going to build that or you guys going to build it?
Lind: Oh, we are going to build it. And thank him for it.
Arenstein: OK. We’re talking about relationships and ethnicity. One thing I did really want to talk to you about was OMNI Television, which was launched in 2002. Tell our viewers about—oh, you acquired it…
Lind: We acquired it then but because we were allowed to at that point. We started multicultural television in Canada. Why? Because in Toronto, south of Bloor, where we were, there were ethnics. There were Greeks, Italians, and Portuguese in large, large numbers. Now getting programming from Greece or from Italy was almost impossible because they were state-run and they would not sell their programs. This is totally different now, but in those days they would not sell their programs. So we had to, by hook and by crook really, we sent one guy, a technician—Al Pace—down to Rio where he taped for like two or three days. He had a suitcase full of tapes, brought it up. When he got caught, it was a bit of embarrassing for me, but anyway, when he did get caught. But the point is we did television in Greek language, in Italian and in Portuguese because people wanted it. And a lot of people—it’s true to this day. The seniors especially. They’re never going to learn English. Canada has a huge ethnic population as you know. Now it’s Chinese, it’s South Asian mainly. Europeans don’t anymore. Those people, fifty and up, don’t speak any English. So unless they’ve got TV telling them things, they don’t…
Arenstein: They’re out in the middle of nowhere. So I guess the reason I wanted to talk about this is because of the pioneering role that you had in ethnic television. And tying back into modern day, I was doing some research and I see that somewhere on one of your systems you can listen or watch [Toronto] Blue Jays baseball in Mandarin Chinese.
Lind: And hockey, too.
Arenstein: Hockey in Punjabi.
Lind: Hockey in Punjabi. Yes. We have to do this. I mean, we’re responding to the needs of the people. They want it, we deliver it.
Arenstein: Have you listened to a Blue Jays game in Chinese? What does it sound like?
Lind: Of course. Different. Believe me.
But it’s great. You have to respond to what’s going on in your community. We have 500,000 Chinese in Toronto. We have 500,000 Chinese in Vancouver. We have 400,000 Indians and South Asians in Vancouver. Vancouver, over 60% of the people that are walking on the streets weren’t born in Canada. So believe me, ethnicity is a big part of what we do.
Arenstein: Talk a little bit about OMNI and where it is today from when you acquired it. What is it doing today?
Lind: OMNI has changed the game because it was the only form of lifeline television in their language. But now, with choices, we bring over Indian TV, we’ve got the Great Wall package from China. I was over there two or three times, bowing and scraping to get this package. So we bring a lot of homeland television and so do our competitors. It’s different. OMNI almost struggles now because now…
Arenstein: There’s so much competition.
Lind: There’s so much. It’s changing, everything changes.
Arenstein: It kind of validates the idea that you had.
Lind: Well, it certainly does. It was, again, Ted’s idea. The salesmen would go out and promise these things and of course, they had no authority to promise because we couldn’t deliver it. But they—because of commission. So we had to deliver it in the end. And we did.
Programming has always been a very central thrust of Rogers. It was a central thrust in Canada, differentiated us between us and our competitors. In the States the same way. We had community programming, things like that that no one else did. And in the end, even when we set up our systems in the United States in San Antonio and places like that, we were number one in advertising, and number one in pay-per-view. So we put the first pay-per-view—we were the first NBA pay-per-view and the first NHL. NHL in Minneapolis with the Stars—what were they called?
Arenstein: The North Stars.
Lind: The North Stars. And then they moved to Dallas. Then in Portland with the Trail Blazers; we were the first NBA and the first NHL pay-per-view contracts in this country. And the leading advertiser. We had two or three dollars in those days—that was high. Two or three dollars per month. That was very high compared to any other system in the United States. So we were always pushing on the programming side.
Arenstein: Since we’re speaking a little bit about sports here, as you said, eventually things changed in Canada and operators were allowed to get into the programming…
Lind: We were always allowed to own a team. We just weren’t allowed to own a network, a sports network. So the team—Toronto Blue Jays—Ted had made an offensive into Québec and had bought Vidéotron, and I said to Ted, “I don’t know; the Québec government, it doesn’t allow anybody who’s non-Québecers to own this thing.” “Oh, yes, we’ll go down and see the ministry…” We saw them and I was still unconvinced. Eventually they wouldn’t sell, they sold Vidéotron to Québecor and we were given $150 million booby prize. That was the breakup fee.
So I said to Ted, “Let’s buy the Blue Jays.” So we bought the Blue Jays and that’s how that started. But then I said, “Well, there’s TSN.” Which is the sports network, the ESPN of Canada. “So why don’t we start something?” And Peter Barton and I concocted a Sportsnet for Canada. And that was very difficult because in Canada, unlike the United States, every service has to be licensed. In other words, you can’t start a service and go on the air. You have to get permission from the Commission. Of course, the monopoly guys say, “Like TSN—they don’t need anything. We provide everything. How could they possibly want anything? There’s nothing there.” We had to try once or twice. We had to apply under the CTV network because Rogers could only own 20% and the Americans could own 20% so there’s 40. And we had to have another 40, so there’s CTV at 40 and then we got Molson’s, which was the rival to Labatt’s for the last 20%. So that’s how Sportsnet started because we started it. We started YTV, we started all of these things, but we had to be under 20%. It was just crazy. We would have been so much better served if we had—we would have been a lot wealthier too, of course.
Arenstein: Tell me about owning the Blue Jays. It’s been about sixteen years now, is that right? 2000?
Arenstein: You just had a very good season.
Lind: Yes, we did, we had a wonderful season. Marvelous season. Paul Beeston and Alex Anthopoulos. It was Cinderella; it was wonderful. We could have won that whole thing. We were ninth inning, Kansas City; we had two men on, one out. A man on third.
Arenstein: And [Josh] Donaldson was up, I believe, right? It was the guy you want up there, the MVP.
Lind: I know, I know.
Arenstein: Jeez, that was too bad.
Lind: So we lost that game. But if we’d won that game, we would have won the World Series, too, probably because both either team in the AL, the American League, was so much better.
Arenstein: Better than the Mets. Well, I’m a big Mets fan so you kind of—but I love the Blue Jays, too. In fact, I listen to the Blue Jays on Rogers Sportsnet on the radio on my phone because I have the MLB package…and I like R. A. Dickey because he was a Met so that’s why…
It’s fabulous. And you have a great radio announcing team, too.
Lind: But even in streaming, we were the first baseball team to stream baseball. Why? Because we own the team, we own the stadium and we own the network.
Arenstein: That’s right. The Rogers Center.
Lind: Down here, very few people own three. I mean, nobody. So it gets far more complicated.
Arenstein: Let’s talk a little bit about making a bet on baseball in Canada. Montreal had a difficult time with it, hockey I would assume. Hockey and lacrosse, I think, are the two main…
Lind: Lacrosse, no.
Arenstein: Not anymore?
Lind: No one cares about lacrosse. Hockey is king but last year baseball was king. But the important thing about the sports is, when Rogers and I got into sports, it was simply because we realized that sports, outside of news, was probably the only thing that you had to watch live. So you had to have cable to watch sports when we started—you had to have cable. You couldn’t get anybody else. You couldn’t retrieve it. No PVR package, DVR in the States you call it. You couldn’t retrieve it; it was live. And that’s why we were involved in sports and in such a big way. Now, last year, we committed to an NHL package, which is unbelievable. Billions of dollars, over a billion a year. Because it’s live. And of course because Canadians love hockey.
Lind: We love hockey.
Arenstein: But let me ask you this. We’re talking about hockey and television. I think hockey gets better on HD, but I’m sure you’ve been close to, down near the ice and watched a hockey game and then watched it on television. It is so much faster in person. I mean, doesn’t it lose a lot on television? On television you could sometimes see the speed but when you’re there in person, you realize, “My goodness!”
Lind: I agree.
Arenstein: Is there anything that television can do?
Lind: Well, a lot of Canadians have seen NHL in one way or another. One game, three games. Canadians know hockey so they’re sort of used to—they don’t understand maybe the quickness of these athletes; when the pass comes, they get a deke and everything like that. But they understand the dynamics so I don’t think it’s a problem. And we’re getting more, we’re going to be 4k now, broadcasting in 4k…when Fox had that puck thing…
Arenstein: With the orange thing around the puck?
Lind: You don’t need grade 1 or grade 2 in hockey in Canada. We’re born with it, we understand what it is. But American football, that’s beautiful, too. Beautiful.
Arenstein: Is there a big following of American football in Canada?
Lind: Yes, amazing following.
Arenstein: You have Canadian football.
Lind: We tried to buy the Buffalo Bills. We were very close to Ralph Wilson and it just didn’t quite work out because in the end, there was a guy from Buffalo who would pay any amount of money, but he was from Buffalo. And he promised to keep the team there. The league has finally learned you don’t move teams very readily. It’s very, very awkward for them. We still want a team in Canada. And southern Ontario is a hotbed of NFL. Toronto is like three million basic and two million surrounding…we’ve got the third, fourth, fifth largest population base in North America. So of course we want an NFL team.
Arenstein: We mentioned Brian and Ralph Roberts, but you didn’t really talk about them. Tell me about them…
Lind: They’re both tremendous, tremendous guys. We knew Comcast early on, in the Dan Aaron days. That’s a long time ago. But they didn’t really compete very much with us. They were not of the size that we were. But we got closer and closer to Comcast. Ralph was a great friend of Ted’s and mine. Young Edward, Ted’s son, worked for Comcast so there’s very strong ties there between our two companies.
Arenstein: Let me interrupt. I think I read that you said that Brian could have been the head of Comcast even if his last name was Rogers. Didn’t you say that once?
Lind: That’s exactly right. And I have to be careful about what I say, but sometimes the second or third generation don’t have the same push that the first does. In Brian’s case, it was even better. So yes, that’s absolutely true. Brian could have been the president of Comcast even if his name had been Rogers.
Arenstein: You look back over your career, Phil, and we can’t even do it justice in an hour. It’s very difficult. What are some of the things that stand out for you when you look back? And I know you don’t look back—I know you’re always looking forward. You’re still active, you’re doing all kinds of things, you’re interested in all sorts of things but if you take a little bit of time to look back, what are some of the things you look back on fondly? You talked about a lot of the hurdles and how difficult things were, but there have been some great things, too. What are a few memories that you treasure?
Lind: The memories that I treasure are the victories that we won in the United States and in Canada. We applied to the Commission to get competition in long distance and they have a monopoly in Canada. A monopoly. They did here, too, with AT&T. We won the right to compete. Now we lost $500 million in trying so we didn’t know how to compete, but we won the right to compete. Then Ted said—because we made over a million dollars in the U.S., which in those days was a lot of money. So the other $500 million he put into Cantel, which is a wireless company and then eventually through a series of deals, we owned 100% of it. So now we’re Canada’s wireless provider, over ten million. We’re the largest provider of cellular services in Canada, but by quite a ways.
Think about it: a lowly little cable company with one franchise in Toronto and one in Brampton, Ontario, and all of a sudden, we’re the largest telecommunications company in Canada. It’s an amazing story. Why? Because we had ambition and drive, and Ted had the guts to risk everything over and over again to make the company a great company. And he had a lieutenant or two who would say, “Yes, here we go.” It didn’t mean that Ted and I used to argue all the time. We used to fight all the time, but he listened, I listened and we compromised but it was mainly Ted’s ideas, mainly Ted’s relentless energy that made this company such a great company.
So what have we done? We’ve put Canada on the map in the States. That’s probably my number one accomplishment, I feel, anyway. Because no one else could. I mean, Maclean-Hunter a little bit and Cablecasting, I think, a little bit. But they bought the systems or were bankrupt or whatever. We really went out and competed and won. We were really, really good. No other Canadian company was anywhere near us. We did something that most Canadians could not do. We made a real stand in the States. Unfortunately, we sold. Ted and I disagreed on that. We would be a very large company in the States today had we not…but we wouldn’t have had the wireless company. Ted eventually, when we went down to Minneapolis, he said one time, “You know what? I’m not sure. I was right, I did this, I got this. We would have been a great company in the States, too.” And I said, “Absolutely.” Because Ted had the magic. Ted, he knew how to orchestrate deals as well as anybody in the States, including John Malone. And Malone is great and Roberts is great. And Tom Rutledge is great. There’s endless numbers of great guys and people in the United States. We’ve still got, for example, we’ve got Missy Garner still working for us. She’s from San Antonio. She comes up every two weeks, every other week to Toronto to—we’ve been out of San Antonio for twenty some-odd years. There’s a great camaraderie between our country and yours.
Arenstein: I think I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about—again this is kind of Canada 101 for Americans—to compare maybe the regulatory landscape in Canada for television and the regulatory landscape in the United States for television. What are the big differences? What do Americans not know about Canada and television and regulation in Canada?
Lind: I think we discussed it earlier: the protection of Canadian broadcasting, Canadian culture, Canadian content. That is essentially the difference. You had the FCC protecting NBC, CBS…that’s for sure. But they didn’t protect it for their American content ratings, they protected it because of economic interest. And Canada, it’s just because of the political and sociological—that’s essentially the difference. CRTC has come up with some cockamamie ideas and so has the FCC. And they talk. That’s the fortunate or unfortunate…I’m not sure if it’s good or bad. Anyway, I think that’s the essential difference between the two.
Arenstein: So let’s end on the personal side. When you have a few minutes to spare, what sort of television, what kind of activities do you like to do? What do you like to watch? Any hobbies?
Lind: I’m very interested in contemporary art. I’m very involved in that. I’m on the board of the Art Galley of Ontario, the art museum in Ontario, the art museum in Vancouver, on the Canadian board of the Albright-Knox, the Buffalo art museum. I love that. I love art. I watch mainly sports. That’s mostly what I watch. I never watch anything else on TV. News, news and sports. That’s about all I have time for. I love my children. I have two kids. My former wife is dead, but I have a very active life. And I travel a lot and I’ve got lots of friends and I’m here and there and all over the place.
Arenstein: Sounds like it.
Let’s talk about legacy. What do you want people to say about Phil Lind? What did he do, what did he stand for?
Lind: Well, I think I stood for, in fairness, women in the industry. I was a tremendous promoter and always have been. Our latest roster of executives at Rogers is like all men and I think it’s appalling frankly. It’s appalling. And the winning in the States was a big deal for me. A big, big deal. I wanted to show that we could do it and we did.
Arenstein: Phil, you’ve talked about so much of your career. I know there’s another big part of it that we really touched on but haven’t gone deep into and I want to correct that now. You’ve been on boards, you’ve been on associations, you’re on the board of the people who are paying the bills for these lights here, the Cable Center in the United States. Talk about some of that.
Lind: I think associations are very, very important. And the cable association has been incredibly important because we have all stuck together. And we’ve accomplished a tremendous amount because we’ve stuck together. Anytime there are lone wolves going around, that hurts the industry. We’re the poster child for an industry that sticks together. In the Canadian Cable Association—because we were always under fire from broadcasters and everything else—we stuck together and I was chairman, Ted was chairman of the Cable Association in Canada. In the States I always really wanted to be on the NCTA board. I finally got on. I think I was a real contributor there to the NCTA. I really loved their focus in Washington and their interest in politics generally. Bob Packwood, because it was Oregon, was a good friend of mine. [Barry] Goldwater, because we had a system in Arizona…Henry Cisneros in San Antonio was hot eventually. All of these people were important not just to Rogers because we served the areas, but because I could then muster them for the NCTA. The cable association is just one continuation of that. We’ve got to think about what we do as a cable industry and work that way.
Arenstein: I know that having women in leadership roles is important to you. And this year, the 30th anniversary of the Cable Center, we finally have a woman running the Cable Center, Jana Henthorn.
Lind: Finally. That’s right. Formerly of A&E.
Arenstein: Yes, that’s right.
Lind: Cable: you know, we didn’t talk about that, but what has cable done for the States, good and bad? Good—it’s provided so much, so much choice for Americans and Canadians. So much choice. We never had choice before. Cable is choice. And the bad thing is, these crazy shows are beyond belief. Some of them because, I guess, when you have too much choice—you can’t have too much choice—but so that’s the legacy of cable for sure. We expanded people’s knowledge base and we did it in such style.
Arenstein: And with broadband as well.
Lind: Broadband is just a continuation of cable. And broadband will be the future. We used to say cable is the future, now broadband is the future. It’s just as easy as that. Wireless and broadband put together, can’t beat it. One thing I say to the cable industry, because I tell the captains all the time, get into the wireless business, guys, get into the wireless business like we are. Then you’ve got everything.
Arenstein: One thing we didn’t touch on, Phil, is that a number of people who are quoted and our researchers say one of your secrets, or maybe not the word secret, but one of your reasons for success is that you’re such a good listener.
Lind: The chairman of the CRTC, the first chairman of the CRTC, Pierre Juneau, used to say, “Always understand the logic of the other person’s position. You may hate him, you may think it’s ridiculous, etc., etc., but at least understand the logic where he or she is coming from. Then go out.” I think that’s a very important thing. Once you get to be a big shot in the industry, whatever industry it is, for some reason most people stop listening. I don’t know why that is, but they do. They think they know it all because they’ve come to the top, they think they know it all. It’s not true and you should always listen and try and understand why this person thinks the way he does.
Arenstein: Phil, this has been a pleasure, this has been educational, it’s been entertaining, it’s been fun. Thank you so much for doing it.
Lind: It’s been great. Thank you very much.
END OF INTERVIEW