Anders Gustafsson sees no ceiling in the growth opportunity at Zebra Technologies

The time had come for Zebra Technologies Corp. to evolve.

Zebra had historically defined itself as a printing company specializing in the barcode sector. But when Anders Gustafsson looked at what his team did for its customers, he was left with a question.

“What is the value customers get from us?” says Gustafsson, the $1 billion company’s CEO. “What we really do for our customers has much more to do with how we help them increase visibility into their operations.

“It could be a supply chain, a hospital, a retail store — even a university with students or sports teams, any kind of facility that has a need for greater visibility into their most important assets or transactions.

The way we offer that visibility is by providing a digital or virtual voice to be able to communicate with the digital world.”

The idea of being a broader solutions provider that can give more to its customers sounds great on paper. But at least initially, not everyone at the company of 2,500 employees was on-board with the change.

“We are by far the market leader in our space,” he says. “According to independent market research, we have a high 30 percent market share. So it’s not like people feel like we haven’t been successful. Creating the case for change and why we need to change and how to drive that has been a journey we’ve been on for some time.

“We had lots of opinions in the early stages. We had so many good growth opportunities just focusing on the core of what we had done. Some people felt we should put our focus on continuing to do what we had done successfully for many years. Others felt that in order for us to really achieve our growth aspirations, we needed to find new growth engines that could propel us for the next 10 years.”

As Gustafsson looked at the future of the business, he saw an opportunity to provide separation from Zebra’s competitors.

“We had an opportunity to differentiate ourselves within our industry and expand into some adjacent things which would put us on a much more attractive growth trajectory,” he says.

Draw up a plan

When you embark on a big change in your business, you need to take a moment to make sure everyone has a clear idea of what that change will look like. It might change down the road, but you at least need a foundational starting point on which to build.

“It was a lot of work trying to figure out exactly what this was,” Gustafsson says. “It started by really having us do a lot of work around our core business, making sure we all got on the same page as far as what we believe the growth of our core business will be in the future.”

The idea wasn’t to abandon the things that had made Zebra successful in the past; it was to find ways to take advantage of new opportunity in that realm while simultaneously looking to expand into new areas.