I just recently moved back to the US from Africa so when I think of the word Zebra I don't think technology. But I recently started helping a client set up inventory tracking, and in my research, I learned more about what Zebra Technologies does. Zebra makes printers for barcodes, inventory tracking devices, machines to print your driver's license, your Amazon shipping labels and the software solutions to manage that data. Even more interesting Zebra Technologies ZBRA (NASDAQ) bought Motorola Solutions' Enterprise business for $3.45 billion in cash in 2014 an acquisition that made sense to Zebra but not others at the time because they were the smaller company.

Now, this led me to have several questions about a company that I hadn't thought much about or knew much about, and that prompted me to reach out to CEO Anders Gustafsson to chat about the future of the company, and where this tech segment is headed.

One thing I was curious about was if printing labels and barcodes might become obsolete in favor of some other technology. Gustafsson thinks that it is possible but doesn't think it will come about anytime soon. The reason is that unlike regular product labels that just identify the SKU and manufacture Zebra labels are unique. Gustafsson explained labels you find on Amazon and UPS boxes tell you much more information including where your package is in the delivery process and when it will arrive.

The other reason this technology will be around is that Zebra is working in lots of emerging markets where technology is not that advanced, and things like physical id cards and printed labels are going to be around for a while. He also said that the technology is very economical and will be hard to replace just based on cost.

We discussed some of the other tech the company is working on, and as someone who has to deal with managing inventory, it sounds fascinating. They are working on automation in your warehouse that can scan the radio-frequency ID tags on individual products within 45 feet, without needing to have a line of site. It is now easy to tag individual items meaning you can prevent loss and understand your inventory completely. No more human error.

I don't know how football came up but for the past three years, Zebra (RFID) transmitters have been installed in NFL players shoulder pads. The transmitters collect data such as speed and acceleration to help provide the league with "Next Gen Stats." I can only imagine this will help improve training and safety. 

Gustafsson is celebrating ten years at Zebra and a stock that's doubled over the past year. They service 99 of the top US 100 retailers, and overall some 95% of Fortune 500 corporations but Gustafsson is very focused on the future and what's next.

I love hearing about all the new stuff coming that will make business more profitable, but I forgot to ask him the most important question...what is the story behind the name Zebra?

Published on: Sep 18, 2017
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