Robert Schulz, longtime leader of plastics compounding firm LNP Engineering Plastics, died March 28 at age 80 after a short illness.
Schulz joined LNP in Malvern, Pa., in 1966 after previous industry experience with American Cyanamid and Celanese. At LNP, which later was based in Exton, Pa., for many years, he held a variety of sales and management positions until being named president in 1991.
Schulz held that role until retiring in 2003, a year after LNP was acquired by GE Plastics. Today, the former LNP business is part of Saudi Basic Industries Corp., which acquired GE Plastics in 2007.
Remarkably, Schulz stayed at LNP through four ownership changes, including three that occurred while he was president. LNP was one of North America's 30 largest plastics compounders and a leader in engineering compounds.
During Schulz's tenure, LNP went from being privately held to being owned by Beatrice Foods, Imperial Chemical Industries plc, Kawasaki Steel Corp. and finally GE Plastics. Under Kawasaki's ownership, and Schulz's guidance, LNP grew from $100 million to $300 million in annual sales during the 1990s.
Over the course of Schulz's career, LNP also grew from two sites and 24 employees to 11 sites and 1,000 employees. After former LNP executive Roger Jones died in 2014, Schulz wrote a letter to Plastics News recognizing how Jones impacted his own career.
"My personal 'I owe him big time' moment came in 1981, when Roger left LNP to take his talents to another industry," Schulz wrote. "He recommended me as his successor, which, I'm certain, was a very hard sell to his boss at Beatrice. I was considered 'too young' to head a booming multi-national operation."
"Roger, thank goodness, prevailed," he added. "He had tremendous faith in me, and was willing to go to the mat over it. There aren't many bosses like that."
Longtime LNP sales and marketing executive Bob Findlen said March 29 that Schulz "was very proud of LNP, very proud of the people."
"Every Christmas after he retired, Bob would host an open Christmas lunch in Exton, close to the old LNP headquarters," recalled Findlen, who worked at LNP from 1984-2006. "Despite everyone's effort to pay the bill, Bob had already taken care of it.
"He had a gleam when looking around the room at everyone who would come and how successful everyone had become," he added. "We were like his children!"
Carlos Carreno, another longtime LNP executive, said that "above and beyond his amazing business career, Bob [Schulz] will be remembered for his leadership and concern for the well-being of all the employees that made LNP successful."
"He truly cared for people for all the right reasons," said Carreno, who worked at LNP for almost 30 years before co-founding Infinity Compounding in 2005. "He was my mentor and friend and I will miss him."
Carreno also credited Schulz with "playing an important role in the genesis" of Infinity. Schulz owned a minority stake in Infinity until 2013, when the business was sold to Americhem Inc.
Schulz had a great sense of humor, which was evident in some of the comments he made when Plastics News wrote about his upcoming retirement in 2003.
On how he got his first job at LNP: "I was basically a peddler they brought in to do thermoplastics. I had some plastics sales experience with Celanese, so LNP gave me sales responsibility for the entire eastern part of the U.S."
On how customers thought every liquid nitrogen truck on the road belonged to LNP (The company's initials stood for Liquid Nitrogen Processing, its first business): "We'd go into a place like IBM and they'd say, 'Yeah, we see your trucks all the time with Liquid Nitrogen on the side,'" he said. "Half of the people we called on thought we sold fertilizer."
On LNP being owned by Beatrice, a conglomerate with businesses in many industries : "At meetings, there would be one guy who was selling potato chips and another guy who was with Tropicana orange juice and another guy who was with Samsonite luggage."
"The good news was that Beatrice left us alone," he added. "But the bad news was Beatrice left us alone. They had so many things going on that we couldn't get a nickel out of them for capital projects."
On LNP's 1990s growth into computer peripherals like printers, scanners and disc drives: "It was like being shot out of a slingshot."
In that same 2003 interview, Schulz credited his staff at LNP for their hard work and forward thinking. "If we got to the engineers at a place like Polaroid and talked to them about resins, we'd get somewhere," he recalled. "We were trying to sell a systems approach years before anybody even called it that.''
Schulz held a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and an MBA from City College of New York. He was a member of several professional organizations in the plastics field, and had been widely published.