On one of the several executive summits they attended together, PHD Canada president Fred Forster and Shaw Media president Paul Robertson spent a long day fishing for salmon in northern British Columbia.
Forster recalled that trip on Wednesday, the day after Robertson’s death at aged 59 following a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer.
“He was one of those guys you always looked forward to seeing,” said Forster, struggling for the right words to summarize his friend and colleague. “He was gregarious, funny, great to spend time with – just a wonderful guy to be around. Everybody who spent any time with him would tell you the same thing.”
Forster’s wife Nieves and Robertson’s wife Carole were good friends, and the two men knew each other socially in addition to frequently sitting across from each other at the negotiating table.
“Any time something like this happens, you think how unfair life is,” said Forster. “He was just one of the nicest guys.”
Colleagues and coworkers on Wednesday remembered Robertson for his unwavering optimism, his affability – and his way with a song.
In a statement, Shaw Communications CEO Brad Shaw said that Robertson was “one of a kind,” his many career successes with broadcasters including Shaw, Corus and CTV overshadowed only by his zest for life and his love of family.
“Paul was very special; he drew people to him,” said Shaw in a statement. “[He] never took credit for success but gave credit to others generously. He was deeply connected to his team, and loved people to thrive, energized by the success of others.”
Shaw said that Robertson successfully mentored and inspired many young leaders because of his inclusive management style, which always brought out the best in people.
Noting Robertson’s well-known passion for music and considerable talent with a guitar, Shaw urged people to listen to music, particularly to a song that holds personal meaning, to remember his legacy.
Corus also issued a statement Wednesday, saying “He was an inspirational leader and a warm and caring person. Paul made a significant contribution to the Canadian television industry. His personal leadership style has left an indelible mark on those who knew him. Paul embraced life and his work with passion, humour and optimism. He will be greatly missed.”
Former Capital C CEO Tony Chapman first encountered Robertson by chance several years ago, when the two men and their families were staying at the same all-inclusive resort. “You can tell a lot about an individual by the way they interact with their family, the hotel staff and other guests,” said Chapman. “Paul was a prince and a gentleman.”
Robertson carried those traits into the business world, he said, combining them with a sharp mind, strong intuition into what customers and viewers wanted, and a desire to create “win-win” deals with clients.
“I did my first branded content play with Paul at YTV, with the ‘Land of Cadbury,’” added Chapman. “I would take his handshake over any piece of paper.”
Robertson graduated from The University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business in 1977 with an honours degree in business administration. His career also included a stint as an account director with the now defunct Hayhurst Advertising.
Robertson joined Shaw Communications in 2010 as executive vice-president and president of its Shaw Media division, following its acquisition of the former Canwest assets.
He had previously spent 11 years with Corus Entertainment as president of television, and before that worked as senior vice-president of sales and marketing with CTV.
His optimism and affability are traits that endeared him to colleagues and friends. “He was a great man,” said Sally Tindal, director of communications at Corus. “What a loss – we all loved him.”
“I will miss his eternal optimism and coaching demeanour that always put clients, family and friends above himself,” said Errol Da-Re, senior vice-president of sales for Shaw Media. “He simply loved life and wanted all of us to love life too. He will be missed immensely.”
Sherry O’Neil, co-founder of Toronto media agency Cairns O’Neil Strategic Media, knew Robertson for more than 25 years, and praised his personal touch and a genuine interest for clients and staff alike.
“He was a gentleman, he was quietly tenacious, had a wonderful sense of humour and was generous with his time,” she said. “He will be missed.”
Robertson leaves behind his wife Carole and daughter Daniella.