Michael Ulinski never did anything halfway. Not in his professional life as vice president of sales and marketing for Masco Contractor Services, not in his personal life as a husband and father of three and not in his battle to fight cancer, said his friends and colleagues.
The Masco veteran of 25 years spent more than a year fighting an incurable form of cancer into remission through aggressive treatments. Then, just when he was feeling close to his normal self, according to friends and colleagues, Ulinski caught the flu. His weakened immune system was unable to fend off the virus, and Ulinski, 50, died on Aug. 7.
“He was full-out all the time, whether it was work or play or his family or his faith,” said his colleague and former boss Karen Mendelsohn, Masco’s vice president of sales and marketing. “He loved life and he approached every situation with an open heart and an open mind and an amazing spirit. He was so generous with his time and with his compassion.”
Since his death, Mendelsohn said she has taken many calls from people in the industry. “Their thoughts are all the same. ... He represented and lived everything that was good and right and true.”
"He was just all around a great person," said Donny DeMarie, Masco's chief operating officer. "He was a ball of energy and one of the most creative people here at Masco. He was very optimistic and always saw the good in people and in situations. He looked for the win-win for the customer and Masco."
Dan Bridleman, vice president of national contracts for KB Home, knew Ulinski for six years. "He was one of the first guys I met," he said. "Mike was one of those guys who always had some innovative way to make us better. We did a lot of business with Masco because of Mike's leadership. He was always coming up with a great idea or a great concept."
Last October KB awarded Ulinski its supplier leadership of the year award at the builder's annual supplier conference.“I think that we are going to continue to recognize somebody every year and hand out a Mike Ulinski Supplier of the Year award to someone who has some of his same qualities," Bridleman said.
"From a business perspective, Mike's respect and integrity was rarely matched by anyone," said Brad Conlon, vice president and director of national accounts for D.R. Horton. "He was a fierce competitor. He was loyal to Masco and did his best to improve their bottom line. But at the same time he brought value and helped us save at the builder level."
But Conlon, who attended the memorial service, also appreciated how Ulinski handled his personal life. "When some people get close to the end of their lives, all of a sudden they have this life-changing experience and change how they live. The coolest thing about Mike is he didn't have to change anything. He always lived for today."
News was late to reach Larry Webb, formerly of Laing Homes and now the founder of a new home building company. Webb spent time with Ulinski as recently as January. “Mike and I always had this really good bond, which started because we were both from Buffalo,” Webb remembered. “When we found that out, whenever we saw each other at [industry] events, we would always spend time together.”
The pair, both mediocre golfers, fought to get on the same foursomes at event tournaments. “Normally you would want to have the best golfers on the team,” Webb said. “We were both bad golfers, but we loved each other’s company. I’ll never play another one of those tourneys without thinking of Mike.”
“I really respected him a lot,” Webb said. “He was a wonderful person and I will miss him a lot.”
Ulinski is survived by his wife Mary and their children: Matthew, Christopher, and Chelsea. "Mike's legacy is his family, his wife and three children," Conlon said. "His mark on the world is definitely going to be those three children. His job as a father was complete."
Teresa Burney is a senior editor at BUILDER and BIG BUILDER magazines.
Editor's note: This version of the story contains additional comments from colleagues and was updated 9/9/2009.