It doesn't happen very often, it's just once in a while that someone comes along who completely captivates men and women at all levels and has a unique and huge impact on the industry and its people.
Bob Van Buren was such a man.
With his death in late May the industry lost a giant, a role model who touched countless numbers throughout the industry. Make no mistake about it, Bob was an important person in the lives of thousands, including mine.
The temptation to mourn Bob's death is great. But I for one prefer to do what he would want: not to mourn, but to celebrate his life.
Bob was one of those who achieved powerful positions in the industry, an outstanding executive and leader. A giant in every way, nevertheless he was a down to earth man who reached out to all regardless of position. He was comfortable, able and happy in the executive suite and equally happy crawling around on the floor to fine tune floor covering manufacturing machines. This is understandable because his roots in the industry were deeply tied to manufacturing.
He started in the industry in the late 1940's with Matico (Mastic Tile Co.) and in 1956 was elevated to plant supervisor. After helping build manufacturing facilities in Germany and Japan, he was named plant manager. Then a few years later he became vice president of manufacturing of the GAF Flooring div.
Universally respected as a manufacturing genius, he truly understood the business from product development to finished product. Even after moving onto top executive posts, he stayed deeply involved in developing new products and newer, more efficient manufacturing processes. He played instrumental roles in the development of sheet vinyl manufacturing technology, such as thru-chip construction and the introduction of the first urethane coated tile.
He served as president of Amtico for seven years and later led Azrock Industries as general manager and chief operating officer. From 1989 to December 2000 when he retired, Bob was Domco Tarkett's (now Tarkett, Inc.) vice chairman and chief executive officer.
He was closely involved with industry associations. He served on the board of the World Floor Covering Association and was a key player in the Resilient Floor Covering Institute and the National Association of Floor Covering Distributors. In 2000, Bob was inducted into the World Floor Covering Association Hall of Fame, a most prestigious honor.
People throughout the industry respected Bob not only as a true industry leader, but also as an all-around great person. They admired his optimistic outlook, his giving of true friendship, his thoughtfulness, keen sense of humor and his ability to make people feel important and wanted. He leaves a strong legacy.
Those of us throughout the industry granted the friendship of Bob Van Buren, consider ourselves blessed.