Every three months, Lon travels to Washington, D.C. to attend MTAC meetings. He regularly meets with postal officers, has a voice in postal legislation and, Maynard explains, makes sure the envelope universe is not encumbered by the whims of the postal service. His efforts on these fronts are shared in semi-annual reports provided to the industry at large.
You will recall Lon’s job title is “director of research and development” and not “delegate to the U.S. capital.” You will also recall he works for a private company and is not a public servant. “His actual title and role at Tension, it’s a big job, but it’s just a fraction of what he does,” Ellen acknowledges, adding that he gives a great deal of himself to the industry at large, through organizations like FTA and EMA and in his conduct with other companies. “He is a mentor and an educator and a lifelong learner.”
That helps explain why, in perusing old photos from past Forums and INFOFLEX Exhibitions, it is not uncommon to stumble upon an audience shot and notice Lon gazing attentively at the presenter, or, in browsing the EMA’s website, notice the most recent posts were made by Lon. Ellen says he is not one of those people who feels they have nothing left to learn; a person who only “breathes and speaks.” He is a perpetual student, someone who knows they can learn something from each and every speaker, and who understands the importance of listening.
Likewise, when he does speak, with his calm voice, others listen. Mark says that voice is part and parcel of Lon’s leadership style, a style that was helpful when the new Hall of Famer took the reins of FTA’s Board of Directors following the 2007-2008 recession. “He just elicits confidence in any situation,” the FTA president recalls. “That helped me tremendously during a period of time where, who knew what the future would bring.”
Those who have been fortunate enough to listen to or encounter Lon welcome him with open arms, much the way he does others. He often travels to Tension’s satellite facilities, Bill says, and when he does, the workers there are eager for him to share his knowledge and wisdom. Likewise in FTA board meetings, Mark explains how his ability to listen to others voice their sentiments or argue over something, collect their viewpoints and drive resolution through a careful understanding of all sides makes Lon a very effective leader—“He created action basically.”
But after hearing so many talk so extensively about Lon’s character, at a certain point it has to be asked: Why? Why will Lon rarely say “no” to an FTA project when Mark or Joe asks? Why, in the 30 years he has known Lon, has Maynard never had a crass word with him? Why did Lon, after using Uber extensively in his work and personal travels, decide to sign up to taxi people around Kansas City and see what it was like to sit in the driver seat? Why does Lon willingly go to fight for legislation that will benefit his company as much as it will his competitors? Why is Lon on a first-name basis with everyone from pressroom floor cleaners to executives? Why does Lon listen intently to Forum presenters whom he likely knows more than? Why does Lon’s wife describe him as someone who “loves to teach and help others achieve their goals”?
“It all ties into his personality,” Ellen says. “Despite his position, he still treats people the way he does, no matter what role they are in. He’s a lifelong learner and feels like he has something to take away from every interaction. He doesn’t have an ego that makes him think, ‘OK, this person isn’t very important.’ Even though he’s in the role that he’s in and an expert in everything and a chair of all these committees, he still feels he can go and learn something from every single speaker at every event he attends. He has a calm and personable way about him and is always very interested in how you’re doing and how your family is doing. He really treats everybody with the same level of respect. There’s not too many people like that.”
Or, in short, because he’s a nice guy.
Such Great Heights
“‘Nice’ is such an overused word that it’s hard to pin down what you’re trying to say.”
That was this author’s wife’s response when he asked her for variations of the word he knew he’d be writing countless times while putting together the article to welcome Lon Robinson to the FTA Hall of Fame. That there are so many synonyms for it supports her thought, and to take that one step further: To call someone “nice” is to not take the time to think of a word that actually says something about that person.
Lon is certainly nice, and he is all of its synonyms. But being “nice,” by itself, is not enough to warrant joining the 55 other men and women in that illustrious group. Plenty of people are nice and do not do many of the things Lon has done, because to do them, requires doing. Over his entire life—working at Tension, assisting FTA and EMA, serving the industry and being a stand-up colleague—he has done, and that is what grants him access to the Hall of Fame.
So here are a few final words to describe Lon. He is a tireless learner with an insatiable appetite to further his knowledge, and that appetite is only dwarfed by his propensity to share his knowledge with others. He is a volunteer who gives disproportionately more than he takes and through his immeasurable time spent helping, has racked up a debt no organization could ever repay, should he even accept any reimbursement in the first place. He is a compassionate and grounded professional who cares not about titles but about making human connections with the people behind them. He is a sharp and focused leader who can calmly assess a situation, definitively state objectives and overcome obstacles with in-the-moment decision making.
He is a role model for anyone who is just getting their feet wet and second-guessing the value of hard work and where it can take them; who is in a position of power and unsure of what it means to lead by example and inspire others; who is faced with a decision and looking for a person to emulate who embodies what it means to be honorable.
He is Lon Robinson.