Tellabs CEO Rob Pullen dies after cancer fight
BY SANDRA GUY Business Reporteremail@example.com July 2, 2012 11:18AM
Rob Pullen is described as a visionary CEO who expanded Tellabs' sales beyond North America.
Updated: August 4, 2012 6:18AM
Rob Pullen, CEO of Tellabs and a major force in the company’s digital systems innovations and overseas expansion, died Monday.
Mr. Pullen, 50, had been battling cancer.
Naperville-based Tellabs is a telecommunications equipment maker.
Mr. Pullen, a native of Park Ridge, had disclosed in April that he had colon cancer. Last week, while Mr. Pullen was in the hospital, the Tellabs board of directors appointed Dan Kelly, an executive vice president, as acting president and CEO.
Tellabs Chairman and founder Michael Birck told employees and shareholders in a letter Monday that “no words can describe the grief I feel right now.”
Birck said he considered it an honor to have worked with Mr. Pullen for 30 years at Tellabs.
Birck, 74, said Mr. Pullen was a visionary, a hard worker and an “organized thinker” who played major roles in conceptualizing Tellabs’ multi-million-dollar digital cross-connect product used by AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and other leading telecommunications companies.
“He was the contact between the companies who buy the product and the people who created it,” Birck said. “He understood both the customers and the technology.”
Birck said Mr. Pullen also was “the architect of our meaningful expansion outside of North America” at a critical time.
“We had to go outside of North America to generate sales” when Mr. Pullen became CEO, Birck said. “He was a champion of that. He was the guy who really put in place our global sales organization.”
Ironically, Mr. Pullen interviewed for his first job at Tellabs as a design engineer, but when he failed to make the cut, the sales organization took him, Birck recalled.
About half of Tellabs’ sales are now outside of North America. Though much of Tellabs’ presence is in Europe, its sales are growing rapidly in important markets such as Brazil and Russia, Birck said.
“His greatest passion was this company,” Birck said of Mr. Pullen.
Birck recalled lighter times. He and Mr. Pullen shared a love of baseball and commiserated about their thwarted ambitions to one day play in the major leagues. Birck played college ball for Purdue; Mr. Pullen for the University of Illinois.
At Tellabs years ago, Birck coached a team of engineers and Mr. Pullen a team of sales and marketing employees in 16-inch softball. Birck has a poster in his home-exercise room that Mr. Pullen created after Mr. Pullen’s team won the first game in the fierce rivalry. Birck’s team won the second contest.
Mr. Pullen also coached the baseball teams for his children, Brittany and Brendan. Mr. Pullen and his wife, Dawn, raised their family in Naperville.
Mr. Pullen joined Tellabs in January 1985. He was promoted several times, serving as senior vice president of North American sales from 2002 to 2005 and as vice president and general manager of global services until he was named CEO in February 2008. He was credited with more than doubling the company’s North American sales from 2003 to 2005, according to his company biography.
Mr. Pullen spoke at industry forums on global broadband full-service wireless and wireline networks, and their ability to deliver video, voice and data. He was the chairman emeritus of the Telecommunications Industry Association’s executive board, and served as a former co-chair for the industry’s SuperComm trade show.
He held an MBA in management from Northwestern University and a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois.
Visitation will be 2-9 p.m. Sunday at Friedrich-Jones Funeral Home & Cremation Services, 44 S. Mill St, Naperville.
A mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Monday Saints Peter & Paul Catholic Church, 36 N. Ellsworth St., Naperville.