More Than His Mullet
In San Diego, where sun-soaked beaches meet the vibrant pulse of business innovation, there exists a figure who defies business leaders’ stereotypes — and not just because he proudly sports a mullet.
If you were to talk with this man’s peers, you would hear that he is not driven by ego or profit alone. They would use very different words to describe Robert Parker, the visionary at the helm of Label King, and TLMI’s 2023 Converter of the Year.
Take what Calvin S. Frost, chairman of Channeled Resources Group, told Packaging Impressions about this extraordinary business leader: “Robert’s humble. He’s kind. He is driven. Robert is really passionate. He’s committed. He’s creative. He’s energetic. He’s motivated.”
One of Parker’s strongest commitments is minimizing the environmental impact of label manufacturing and application.
Overcoming Challenges to Lead the Way
Let’s take a quick detour for readers outside the label converting and printing industries to discuss an environmental challenge unique to this market — label liner recycling.
Label liner is the backing paper that comes off self-adhesive labels during application, and it is typically generated in small quantities relative to other manufacturing waste. These smaller quantities at each pack-out and filling facility can make label liner expensive and sometimes burdensome to collect and then transport for recycling.
As Parker became more involved with the label converting and printing industry association TLMI, he became passionate about liner recycling, despite the lack of an industry-based solution.
Instead, Frost explains, Parker began to offer Label King’s customers a personal solution involving his trusty pickup and the highways that snake between San Diego and Los Angeles. “After he’s collected enough liner,” Frost says, “Robert drives it up in his truck to a recycler in L.A. He doesn’t make any money with the solution, but it does demonstrate to his customers and to the industry that liner isn’t something that has to be thrown away.”
Life of Righteous Action
Parker’s resounding passion for sustainability reflects his powerful, yet humble, life philosophy. “I’m just trying to do the right thing,” Parker says. “I think you know what I mean when I say this: You want to do the right thing professionally with your business, you want to do the right thing by your co-workers, your vendors, and your customers. I try to do the right thing across the board.”
But what does “doing the right thing” look like in practice? Parker’s peer John F. Crosby, vice president of operations at GRLabel, sees Parker’s life philosophy in selfless actions to benefit a larger community. Crosby says, “Robert shares best practices and does not try to keep those to himself, not even from his competitors in Southern California. Robert’s always acting on behalf of the industry.”
Parker’s outward-facing approach has also served him well in business. “Robert is endlessly curious,” Crosby says, “and always in a very friendly, positive way. ... Robert draws people to him.”
Card Is a Snapshot Into the Essence of a King
One of Crosby’s favorite stories about Parker involves Chad M. Tarkany, vice president of sales, global key accounts at Avery Dennison, Labels and Graphics Materials, NA. The story, Crosby explains, starts about a year and a half ago when Crosby was visiting his son in Southern California, where Crosby, his son, and Parker planned to enjoy a round of golf.
With Parker’s uncanny ability to attract people, it’s no surprise that this group quickly grew to at least a half dozen players — including Tarkany. “Chad tells a story about Robert,” Crosby says. “He had invited Robert to a [different] golf event in California that normally would be reserved for customers at a higher level of purchasing.”
This golf outing for the label industry’s high rollers is such a showcase of the exceptional quality of Parker’s character that it was brought up by not one but two TLMI members interviewed by Packaging Impressions, including Tarkany himself.
Tarkany recalls, “He [Parker] was probably the smaller converter at the time — just starting to grow. Robert was just happy to be there networking with folks.” Tarkany notes that some entrepreneurs might have been intimidated by the high-earning group — not Parker. He further opines this is because Parker knows that his opinions are “well-thought-out and reasonable,” and so do his peers.
What left a lasting impression on Tarkany and eventually Crosby happened after the golf event. “After the event was done, no more than
two days later — more like a day and a half — I got a handwritten card in the mail from Robert,” Tarkany says. “And it wasn’t just a one- or two-sentence card.
“Robert wrote about how much he enjoyed the event, how much he enjoyed meeting the different folks, and what he took away from the activities that we did over the two days,” Tarkany adds. “I called my rep in Southern California and said, ‘As long as I have events, the Label King and Robert Parker will always be invited.’ Because here’s a guy — a gentleman — who gets it. He took the time not only to write a thank-you note, but his note was by far the first and the most heartfelt. Robert took the time to write about what he enjoyed about the event, who he met, what he learned from the event, and how it would benefit him and Label King as a business. ... Professionalism, authenticity, sincereness — all those adjectives describe Robert to a tee.”
Knowledge Sharing Transforms All Involved
Parker’s heartfelt thank-you card serves as a profound testament to not only his gratitude, but also his receptivity towards embracing fresh perspectives and cherishing opportunities for personal and professional growth — underscored by his genuine appreciation for the ideas and contributions of others.
Carmany prioritizes meeting new members at TLMI meetings. He sees this action as helping ensure the wealth of knowledge from his experience in the label printing business exponentially benefits the industry. At their very first meeting, Carmany immediately recognized Parker’s potential and found that Parker welcomed his mentorship.
“He was very interested in building a business relationship with me — because of what I could help him with,” Carmany says. “He’s very open about that.” Parker’s transparency and affability were the roots of what would grow into a long-standing relationship that Parker deeply values.
Recalling the hours spent on the phone, where Carmany generously imparted his wisdom, Parker says, “It was just incredible — first, to receive all this information, and also to be taught the value of sharing information. I’ve learned that sharing information is not only good for the person you are sharing the information with, but also for yourself. Because the more you share, the more you think about what you’re doing. So, I try and share as much as I can.”
Constellation of Opportunities Ahead
Parker can freely share his knowledge because he believes there are abundant opportunities for businesses — big and small. “We’re all really fortunate to be in an industry that has a strong future, and my optimism for Label King is really high right now,” says King. “There’s still a lot of room for good independent companies like Label King and the big guys. Looking forward, the next 20 years are going to be a lot of fun.”