For Robert Mullen Jr., joining the printing ink industry was practically a natural. His father, Robert Sr., had worked in the industry for many years, and, as Mr. Mullen put it, “I was certainly familiar with the ink industry just from our dinner table conversations.”
After college, Mr. Mullen decided that the ink industry was where he wanted to be. Today, he is the vice president of packaging ink sales for Sun Chemical, and he has served with distinction in a variety of trade associations. His years of service earned him recognition from the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM), which presented him with the Printing Ink Pioneer Award in 2003 during the annual NAPIM Convention.
Joining the Ink Industry
Mr. Mullen’s decision to enter the ink industry was heavily influenced by his father’s career at Inmont, and although he went to Northern Illinois University and studied city management, Mr. Mullen felt that the ink industry was where he wanted to be.
“My father Robert Sr. worked at Inmont in sales and as a branch manager in Chicago and Los Angeles most of his life,” Mr. Mullen said. “Coming out of college, I was working on my masters in city management, but when I realized it wasn’t what I thought it would be, joining the ink industry was a natural.”
Mr. Mullen began his career in 1976 at Inmont’s Cleveland, OH facility, working in the lab. “I started out in the lab for a year, and then went into sales,” he said. “I started out selling all product lines in both publication and packaging.”
By 1980, Mr. Mullen was in Chicago, first working as a sales representative, then as sales manager. He had begun to specialize in liquid inks, which remains his focus. In 1985, United Technologies acquired Inmont, and Mr. Mullen became the company’s Neenah, WI location manager. By 1987, BASF had acquired United Technologies, and Mr. Mullen relocated to Charlotte, NC to become area manager, then to Clifton, NJ in 1991 to be Eastern regional manager and market director for flexible packaging.
When Sun Chemical acquired BASF in 1995, Mr. Mullen headed to Carlstadt, NJ to be director of sales and marketing for packaging inks, then was promoted to his present position and moved to Sun Chemical GPI’s headquarters in Northlake, IL.
The business world has changed over the years, and Mr. Mullen said that it has become incumbent on ink companies to show how their products bring value to their customers.
“The ink industry has become more professional,” Mr. Mullen said. “You’re now looking at more professional buyers, and you’re looking at your customers facing the same influences as the end user. What used to be an easy way to show value has become a given – technology and service get you to the race, but now we have to show how you can take cost out, not by invoice price but through improvements in the ink management and printing processes.”
His efforts to deliver that value are strongly praised by Sun Chemical’s leaders.
“Bob is someone who promotes the overall interest in price by focusing on creating value for customers through new technologies, new solutions, new products and new services,” said Wes Lucas, chairman, president and CEO of Sun Chemical. “He believes that ink is a true specialty, not a commodity, and that is good for the industry.”
“Bob Mullen is a very personable, outgoing person,” said Michael Murphy, presidentof Sun Chemical North American Inks. “He works hard with our branch people to promote our products. He’s got a very good understanding of the process, and he knows our customers’ business very well.”
Active in Associations
Mr. Mullen’s work within the ink industry has been noteworthy enough, but he really has poured his energy into helping allied trade associations in the packaging converting industries.
In particular, he has been very active in the Flexographic Technical Association (FTA) since 1978, serving as a speaker and co-chairman of FTA conferences and now in his second term as a member of its Board of Directors. He has also been involved for the past 17 years in the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) and was a member of the Gravure Association of America (GAA). Most recently, he joined the Board of Directors of the Packaging Label Gravure Association (PLGA).
“I’ve known Bob for 21 years,” said Randy Butler, graphics manager for Printpack and a past president of the PLGA. “Bob Mullen is a wonderful, wonderful man– compassionate, a great family man and civic leader and passionate about what he does. He treats people with the utmost respect and has no hidden agendas. He is also very bright, and more than just being a student of the industry, he is really a professor of the industry.”
“I’ve known Bob for a long time,” sad Arlene Neustein, president of Excelsior Packaging Group and a member of the FTA’s board of directors. “He is conscientious and wonderful to work with. He came up through the technology ranks and he really cares about technology. He really gives back to the industry.”
“Bob is probably one of the most stand-up guys you could ever meet,” said Mark Cisternino, FTA’s president. “He’s very committed to our cause.”
Mr. Mullen enjoys serving these groups, since it allows him the opportunity to help solve some of the industry’s problems.
“The easy answer for why I am active in these organizations is that it offers strong networking opportunities, but it also gives you a true idea of what your customers need,” he said. “The people on these boards have spent their whole careers trying to do their jobs better, and our whole job is to understand what our customers do. By working closely with these associations, it gives you the chance to look closely at the issues and also how to move the industry forward.”
In 2003, the FTA established its Champions, which is designed to raise grass-roots support among the flexo industry to raise funds for grants and research.
“We want to try to keep trade associations viable, so the FTA formed the Champions, a grass roots fundraising campaign for FTA members to keep our programs going,” Mr. Mullen said.
Outside of work, Mr. Mullen enjoys family life and golf. He and his wife Nancy have four children: Megan,who works full time and attends community college; Katie, who attends Michigan State University; Liz, a high school junior and Michael, a high school freshman. “I enjoy watching my family grow up and playing golf,” he said.
Along the way, Mr. Mullen has had many mentors who have helped him become the leader he is today. Of course, it is only fitting that Mr. Mullen’s father came first.
“My father was a strong influence on me, both in the business and on the outside,” Mr. Mullen said. “Bert Fish, the president at Inmont, Ron Ziltz and Bill Maher were personal mentors at Inmont, as were Gordon MacQuaker, Ed Barr, Massie Odiotti and Mike Murphy at Sun Chemical. These guys went out of their way to see my potential and ensure there has been a career path for me.”
Mr. Mullen thought about his mentors as he received the Pioneer Award.
“Receiving the Pioneer Award is a tremendous honor,” he said. “It’s a tremendous honor to be selected to such an august group, and it reminded me of all the people who gave me a leg up, and showed me a better way to do things. It also showed me that I should do the same for others.”
For Mr. Mullen, that “better way” of doing things has led him to treat everyone with respect, and has earned him the friendship and respect of the industry in return.