Louis Audet to resign as Cogeco CEO, will remain with cable, broadcasting company

MONTREAL _ Louis Audet is stepping aside as president and CEO of the Cogeco cable and broadcasting companies founded by his family, and will be replaced on Sept. 1 by Philippe Jette, who has been president of an affiliated company.

Audet _ who has been chief executive officer of the two Cogeco publicly-traded companies for about 25 years _ will become executive chairman of the board for both Cogeco Inc. and Cogeco Communications Inc.

His successor has been president of Cogeco Peer 1, which operates computer centres. Prior to that, Jette was Cogeco’s chief technology and strategy officer after joining the Montreal-based companies in 2011.

Analyst Aravinda Galappatthige wrote in a research note that having a non-family member as Cogeco’s chief executive may re-ignite speculation that Cogeco could be a take-over target for Rogers Communications Inc.

Rogers has held a sizable minority stake in Cogeco for many years but Audet has repeatedly stated he and his family intended to retain control of the company, which has Canada’s fourth-largest cable operation after Rogers, Shaw Communications Inc. and Quebecor’s Videotron.

Cogeco has cable systems in Ontario operate outside the Rogers territory and in parts of Quebec, a province where Rogers competes in the wireless business but doesn’t have a presence in cable systems.

“We do not believe that a sale of the business is imminent because today’s press release emphasized that the Audet family intends to continue to develop the company ‘as it has done for the last 60 years,’ very consistent with prior messages,” Galappatthige wrote in a Canaccord Genuity note.

However, he added that a sale of Cogeco’s Canadian cable operations to Rogers is a possibility in the longer term because of pressure from Bell Canada’s fibre-optics TV and internet services and other home products.

Besides its Canadian cable systems, Cogeco Communications Inc. operates telecom services in various U.S. states. Its corporate parent, Cogeco Inc., also owns radio stations in Quebec and an out-of-home advertising business.

Barclays Capital analyst Phillip Huang also wrote “we would not immediately assume any significant shift in the company’s strategic direction.

“In particular, given Mr. Audet’s recent comments, we continue to believe a sale of Peer1 and/or Canadian cable businesses is unlikely in the near term.”

Audet will continue to play an executive role in major issues while supporting Jette in his transition to chief executive officer of the Cogeco group, which is publicly traded but controlled by the founding family.