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Jun 28, 2019

'We needed to find growth': George Cope on BCE's evolution as retirement looms

George Cope sees bright future for BCE as he retires after 12 years at helm

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BCE Inc. chief executive officer George Cope will retire at the beginning of 2020 after 12 years at the company’s helm.

As he prepares to step away from the telecom giant and hand the reins to chief operating officer Mirko Bibic, Cope discussed some of the key moments of his tenure and the issues that could shape the future of BCE’s business.

Here’s what Cope told BNN Bloomberg on Friday:

On the difference between when he took over as CEO in 2008 and today

"Believe it or not, people said BCE was insolvent. That’s where we started the story. Really if you look back, it’s about the investment in the broadband side: our wireless business had fallen behind, our internet business, the investments we needed to be able to do Fibe where we are today – it’s just changed the position of the asset completely."

On cord-cutting

"Video consumption is absolutely exploding, and it’s our job to make sure we’re playing in that. The leading [over-the-top] streaming services are Netflix and Crave, which is Bell Media’s creation, and it’s a very unique creation globally… All those products need to be available the way the consumer wants to buy them."

On wireless and 5G

"What 5G does for people is it’s just going to take the industry to a brand new level again, especially in the commercial world. You think of autonomous vehicles: If you’re in an autonomous vehicle, video consumption is going to be enormous and so you’ll need these types of networks and this type of speed. We’ll go from 4K (resolution) to 8K and all these different reasons for broadband and that’s what 5G’s all about: the quality of service. Canada once again will be a global leader here."

 

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Cope speaks during the 2017 annual general shareholders meeting in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 26, 2017. (The Canadian Press)

On CRTC relations

"There’s always a balance between the government and the commercial world in an industry like ours. I think the most important thing is always understanding what the rules are going to be. The Astral (Media takeover) challenge was that, quite frankly, we had a change of leadership at the CRTC and what had been the structure was then changed and we hadn’t anticipated that. We had to adapt to that change."

On Huawei Technologies in Canada

"There’s two levels to Huawei: There’s something called the core (5G network) and there’s something we call ‘non-core’: the radio access layer. The issues around the radio access layer should concern no one, quite frankly, but we need governments around the world to clarify those rules and we’ll have to follow those rules. But, clearly, BCE would never put a product in the marketplace that had any (negative) impact on our customers. If we move forward with Huawei, it would be not in the core. It would be in other areas of our network, and we’ll wait for that to get clarified. Obviously there are some big talks going on globally right now."

On M&A

"We needed to find growth and we needed to underpin it with strategic assets that fit. So, we didn’t go outside our core competency: We bought Manitoba Telecom, we acquired Bell Aliant. We made the vertical investment into media and into the sports teams, providing us the content to build a TV business."

 

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BCE Inc. CEO George Cope and Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard celebrate the team's 2019 NBA Championship at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif. Thursday, June 13, 2019. (The Canadian Press)

On investing in sports

"The joy that we just all had with the Raptors’ win, across the country, was something way beyond business. It brought the country together, and to be a small part of that at BCE, we were just proud to be a part of seeing what it did for all of Canada. From a business perspective: We owned the sports teams with a belief that owning live content – of sports – would really be part of the future for TSN and our sports assets, and I think we saw that come to life with the Raptors’ victory and some of the other teams that won championships… You’re not necessarily PVR-ing sports. You want to watch it live, and we knew that that would continue and I think that will continue into the future."

BNN Bloomberg is a division of Bell Media, which is owned by BCE.