Rob Pullen, Tellabs Chief Executive Officer, Dies at 50

Tellabs CEO Rob Pullen
Tellabs Inc CEO Robert W. Pullen. Pullen died of cancer today, July 2, 2012. Source: Tellabs Inc via Bloomberg

Rob Pullen, chief executive officer of Tellabs Inc., who steered the telecommunications-equipment maker to focus on its wireless carrier customers and international expansion, has died. He was 50.

Pullen died today of cancer, Michael J. Birck, chairman and co-founder of the Naperville, Illinois-based company, said in a letter to shareholders. In an April 20 message to shareholders, Pullen said he had been diagnosed with colon cancer and had started chemotherapy. On June 27, Birck said the Tellabs board appointed Dan Kelly as acting president and CEO.

Pullen, who was named chief executive in February 2008, took over amid a period of technology spending cuts and phone company consolidation following an Internet expansion bust. About eight months into his new job, Tellabs recorded a record third-quarter loss of $999 million, resulting from a writedown of old line phone-switching businesses.

Pullen then refocused the company more on its wireless-carrier customers who were gearing up for growth in mobile services. Tellabs returned to profitability in 2009 and 2010.

“I was honored to have worked side by side with Rob at Tellabs for 30 years,” Birck said. “No words can describe the grief I feel right now.”

Robert W. Pullen was born May 29, 1962. He played shortstop on the University of Illinois’s varsity baseball team and joined Tellabs as an engineer right after graduation. Pullen earned a master’s of business administration from Northwestern University.

During his career at the company he held executive positions in sales and service before taking the top job. He also was chairman emeritus of the Telecommunications Industry Association.

Pullen is survived by his wife, Dawn, and two children, Brittany and Brendan.

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