RIP: Media Maverick Jim Shaw

James "Jim" Shaw, the often-colourful former chief executive of Shaw Communications Inc., who stepped down from the Calgary-based telecom giant in 2010, died Wednesday (Jan. 3) following a brief illness. He was 60.

In a statement, the company said Shaw “died peacefully surrounded by family and friends” Wednesday after a brief illness. He is survived by his wife, Kathryn, three children and three step-children.

He joined the company founded by his father, JR Shaw, in 1982, working as a construction worker and cable installer, and later served as the company’s second CEO from 1998 to 2010.

“I am saddened at Jim’s passing but grateful for 60 years with my son who shared the same family values,” read a statement from JR Shaw.

“Jim is loved by so many for his unique sense of family, his courage and willingness to take on all challenges with dignity and commitment.”

A Harley-riding maverick who rarely wore a business suit, Shaw was at first reluctant to join the family enterprise. Instead, he dropped out of university to try his hand at a number of small business ventures in the Edmonton area, including one called “Jim’s Tree Moving.” But in his early 20s, the rapidly growing Shaw cable business drew him back, and he moved from driving a tree-moving truck to driving a cable truck and installing set-top boxes in people’s homes.

While he started at the bottom, his entrepreneurial flare saw him rise quickly through the ranks, and once he became CEO, the company made some of its boldest moves.

Shaw acquired various cable competitors including Winnipeg-based Moffatt Communications, and engineered an asset swap with Rogers that turned Shaw into the dominant cable player in Western Canada.

In 2005, he fired the opening shots in a longstanding war with Telus by launching internet-based phone services, and stealing 100,000 customers in less than a year.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley took to Twitter Wednesday night to offer her condolences to Shaw’s family and friends. She referred to the businessman as a “pioneer in business who changed the telecommunications landscape.”

“He was a philanthropist who made an enormous difference in his community,” Notley added. “His contribution to the country and province will live on in our homes for generations to come.”

Shaw was never one to back down from a fight, not in high school where his fisticuffs were legendary, nor in business where he tangled regularly with both competitors and regulators. He was a huge rock-and-roll fan who once hired Canadian rock band 54-40 to play at his wedding.

In 1997, he led a hostile takeover of WIC Western International Communications, which resulted in Shaw owning a number of radio and television channels that, two years later, were spun out into publicly traded Corus Entertainment.

In 2010, he did it all over again, scooping up the broadcast assets of bankrupt Canwest-Global Communications, including the Global Television Network and Global News, which were also eventually sold to Corus in 2015.

Shaw stepped down as CEO in late 2010, paving the way for his younger brother Brad to take over.

He was active in the community and was chair of the Canadian Cable Television Association for six years as well as serving on a number of business boards. He also supported a number of charities and causes including serving on the board of the University of Calgary, University of Alberta, Strathcona-Tweedsmuir school, and making a $19-million donation to Shawnigan Lake School in 2014.

“During Jim’s tenure as CEO for Shaw, he took the company to new heights of performance and customer advocacy,” said JR Shaw.

“The love of his life, Kathryn, has been a constant and supporting companion and I am pleased that they found each other in this lifetime as they were deeply in love and shared all the joys of life.”

Company statement available here

Sources: Global News, Shaw Communications, various internet portals

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