Helpful by Association
Before there was Lon Robinson the FTA Hall of Fame member, there was (and will continue to be) Lon Robinson the FTA member. Reviewing his records in FTA’s database—which stretch back to 2000 and include a mix of registrations to speak at and attend Forum, Fall Conference and webinars, along with other event-related line items in total numbering well over 100—it is clear Lon’s commitment to the Association is neither new nor half-hearted.
“He is, in my opinion, an ideal meeting attendee because when he wants to go to one of our events, regardless of what it is, he has to prepare justification to his management team,” explains FTA President Mark Cisternino, who has known Lon as more than just “Member ID 21134” in FTA’s database since the turn of the century. “He has to say, ‘I’m going to go to this meeting and here’s the value I’m going to bring back.’”
That hasn’t been a problem—Tension long ago recognized Lon’s ability to deliver value not only internally by attending FTA’s events, but externally by aiding its numerous other endeavors. “The wonderful thing about Lon is he’s not only been an incredibly central member of our team, but he has been willing to share his knowledge and dedicate a great deal of time to the industry,” says Bert. And dedicate his time he has: From 2010 to 2016, Lon served on the FTA Board of Directors and FFTA Board of Trustees, as FFTA vice chair, project evaluations in 2011 and FTA board chair and chair-elect from 2012 to 2015. In 2012, he received the FTA President’s Award. He chaired the Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances (FIRST) Committee for two years, co-chaired Fall Conference 2015 with DuPont Advanced Printing’s Ellen Farrell and has spoken at more than a few Forums and Fall Conferences. He has judged entries in the FTA Technical Innovation Awards as well as the Excellence in Flexography Awards, served on the Awards Committee and will step into that committee’s chair position following Forum 2018.
“It blows my mind that he is [the 2018 Hall of Fame inductee],” says Joe Tuccitto, FTA’s director of education, “because he has spoken for us, he’s been involved in FIRST, he was a board member—he’s done all these things, so how is he not already in the Hall of Fame?”
Maybe more impressive than Lon’s FTA rap sheet is the fact that he is so involved with the Flexographic Technical Association to begin with. As Joe explains it, the envelope industry has a world of concerns outside the process by which things are printed—like square flap, policy flap or commercial; No. 6, No. 9 or No. 10; and window die size. They don’t call their press operators “press operators,” they call them “machine adjusters.” What they use is flexo, but because envelope printers are in their own environment, they don’t realize they’re using it; it’s just one part of their application. “Lonnie has done a really great job at educating his people—Tension and the envelope industry itself—on FIRST and how important color consistency is,” Joe says. “He has represented the FTA very, very well to the envelope industry.”
And yet, despite the number of FTA members who produce envelopes being a single-digit percent of its printer contingent, that doesn’t stop Lon from “participating and giving his all—like in everything he does—as if he’s part of the largest segment of our membership,” as Mark puts it.
One organization where envelope-related companies make up a slightly larger percentage of membership—roughly all of it—is the Envelope Manufacturers Association (EMA). Maynard H. Benjamin, EMA president and CEO and who has known Lon for three decades, says he is the envelope guy’s envelope guy: “Whenever I have questions that are more technical in nature, I go to Lonnie. He understands the mechanics of the printing process as well as the science.”
Given Lon’s track record with FTA, it should come as no surprise he has been equally active in an organization with “envelope” in its name: He is the chairman of the EMA Postal Affairs Committee and one of the EMA representatives to the USPS Postmaster General’s Mailers’ Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC), leads the EMA inserter taskforce and participates on the EMA print committee. In 2012, he received the Daniel H. Lipman EMA Member of the Year Award, the Association’s top honor.
Asked what kind of person spends so much of their time volunteering for associations, attending events where there is a good chance they already know everything that will be discussed and working in the interests of others, Maynard says it is someone “with great love for the envelope industry and flexographic industry. You don’t spend that much time unless you have a lot of love in your heart.”
Customer, Colleague, Co-Chair
So what must it be like to have Lon Robinson as your customer? The same Lon Robinson who has nearly 40 years’ experience in the package printing industry. The same Lon Robinson who is a third-generation pressman and was learning the mechanics of a press at the age other kids were struggling to build LEGOs. The same Lon Robinson who is “a technician’s technician,” according to Maynard.
“I had heard Lonnie was kind of a legend at DuPont,” Ellen recalls, and she does have Lon as a customer, securing Tension in 2009 as her first corporate account. “He’s a great relationship builder. He gets to know everybody in your company and in companies he works with.”
Ellen says working with Lon (rather than for him) hasn’t been a relationship guided by transactions; she calls him “a natural mentor” with whom she has solved problems where Lon, despite not being a stakeholder, is more than happy to lend a hand.
“He doesn’t get flapped too easily. He can separate the emergency and say, ‘OK, here’s what we need to do. Here’s step one, here’s step two…’ He has a calm and quiet but definitive leadership quality about him.”
Ellen witnessed Lon’s leadership firsthand when they together chaired Fall Conference 2015. The centerpiece of the three-day event was the discussion and dissection of the 2015 FLEXO Magazine Cover Project, which saw that year’s Technical Innovation Award-winning press used to print the first page of the November issue. Printing the cover required more than a dozen flexography experts to convene at All Printing Resources Inc’s (APR) Glendale Heights, IL offices, hem and haw over how to best tackle the job, and document every single decision to relay the entire experience on stage at Fall Conference.
“We talked after that APR visit and he said he was nervous about it because, although he has directed many projects before, there had never been one where he had so many experts involved,” Ellen explains. “So, he really wasn’t sure how it would go.”
Throughout the week-long project, the co-chairs had to step in to settle disagreements and, when presented with multiple viable ways to solve a problem, choose the best solution. Lon himself never let on he was anxious, but one of his newest gadgets did. “I remember that was right after the Apple Watch came out; everyone had one and I was envious. Lon kept looking at his watch because it was tracking his heartbeat. And he said later his watch thought he had been working out. He goes, ‘I haven’t, my heart rate’s been really high because I’ve been nervous about this!’”
If Lon was truly nervous, it only showed on his wrist, as what Ellen calls his “calm leadership” led the project to wrap up a full day earlier than anticipated. In the weeks after the magazine cover printrun was finished, the co-chairs convened with Joe at his lake house in Walker, MN to orchestrate the program that would, months later, play out at Fall Conference. Free from project managing a dozen industry veterans with a combined 300+ years’ experience, the Lon who showed up at Joe’s front door kept his heart rate at a steady 72 bpm. Interspersed with event planning was great conversation, fishing, grilling steaks, relaxing on the front porch—and maybe a few glasses of his signature Blanton’s Bourbon.
While that sort of dichotomy may imply he can be two wildly different people, the reality is the man known as Lon Robinson never changes. He is always caring and concerned, personable and pleasing, even when others with his clout would throw all manner out the window.
“Lon can be all business; he can be very direct and communicate exactly what he needs the outcome to be,” says Ellen. “I’ve seen that side many times before—he has no problem putting feet to the fire. But even when Lon is laying out expectations, he is always respectful. He knows that when you build a good relationship, that it’s important to hold people accountable, but still treat them respectfully.”