Tellabs Inc. CEO Rob Pullen, a 27-year veteran of the global telecom equipment maker, succumbed Monday to colon cancer. He was 50.
The chairman of the Naperville-based company, Michael J. Birck, said in a letter Monday to stockholders, employees and others that Pullen had died. Birck extended his sympathies to Pullen's wife, Dawn, his children Brittany and Brendan and the rest of his family.
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"Our thoughts and prayers are with them," Birck said in a statement. "On a personal note, I was honored to have worked side by side with Rob at Tellabs for 30 years. No words can describe the grief I feel right now."
Pullen, a Naperville resident, underwent surgery for the cancer last week, and the company's board appointed acting CEO Dan Kelly, who remains in that position. Kelly served as Tellabs executive vice president for global products since 2007 and had joined Tellabs in 1985.
In April, Pullen told company officials he hadn't felt well and went to the doctor. This reportedly was his first experience with any cancer. He had worked full-time and handled his regular schedule up until recently.
Pullen earned a master of business administration degree in management from Northwestern University with a focus on finance and marketing. He also holds a bachelor's degree with an additional emphasis on physics from the University of Illinois.
He was shortstop for the Illini baseball team, playing with former MLB and Chicago White Sox pitcher Donn Pall.
"I played with Donn Pall among many other good players," Pullen said in April through a spokesman. "I started at shortstop since I was a freshman and I was voted as an All Big Ten shortstop my sophomore year."
"By the way," Pullen added. "the other guy that was voted all Big Ten was hall of famer Barry Larkin."
After college, Pullen joined Tellabs in January 1985 as an electrical engineer and held various positions in research and development, sales, marketing and services.
Tellabs Acting CEO Dan Kelly has known Pullen since 1985 and said Pullen brought that same "competitive fire" from the baseball diamond to the company.
"He was deeply passionate about Tellabs and the industry," Kelly said. "He has always remained focused on the customer and beating the competition."
In 2008, Pullen replaced Krish Prabhu, who resigned from the position, and was responsible for Tellabs' transformation from a company focused on older telephony to one specializing in new optical routing and mobile-related products.
Pullen also was the chairman emeritus of the executive board for the Telecommunications Industry Association.
He also spoke at a number of industry forums on the development of global broadband full-service wireless and wireline networks to deliver the triple play of video, voice and data, the company website said.
Telecommunications Industry Association President Grant Seiffert said Pullen was one of the industry's great innovators.
"Rob's leadership and relentless commitment to progress and innovation has helped make the industry what it is today -- and will forever influence what it will become," Seiffert said.
"Rob will be missed by so many. He was a gentleman, a competitor and fiercely loyal to Tellabs, his employees and customers," said Seiffert. "TIA is grateful for his dedicated service for so many years. It has been an honor to know Rob and to work for him, to learn and follow him. He is one of a kind."
Funeral arrangements are pending.