#ThrowbackThursday | Two Founders, Two CEOs, 50 Years of Innovation and Growth

Happy Birthday Zebra!

Zebra Technologies celebrates its 50th anniversary
by Your Edge Blog Team
May 09, 2019
Picture of Zebra Technologies Co-founders Ed Kaplan and Gary Cless with Stew Shiman

Zebra Technologies, a company born out of a conversation at a dining room table, just turned 50 years old! Can you believe it?

I don’t think that anyone would have guessed in February 1969 that a casual idea discussed by 28-year-old Gary Cless and 26-year-old Ed Kaplan would be capable of conceiving a technology industry pioneer that, in 2019, would be celebrated by 7,600 employees across approximately 120 locations around the globe – and countless more customers, partners and industry influencers.

Or that a simple $1000 capital investment 50 years ago would kickstart a multi-billion-dollar company that has designed, engineered, manufactured and deployed the mobile technology solutions credited with empowering innovation, facilitating game-changing breakthroughs and providing the tools to generate business growth for retailers, healthcare providers, manufacturers, militaries, governments, supply chain organizations and field service providers worldwide.

Gary and Ed sure didn’t…

“When Ed and I started this company, we never dreamt it would have a future like this,” the late Gary Cless once said in a video interview. “And sometimes, such futures seemed to be impossible. But throughout the journey, we never lost faith in that the impossible may become possible if we just would stick with it somewhat longer, work a little harder, come up with a better idea, and simply look at things in an optimistic way. And never, ever, become complacent.”

There were certainly times of uncertainty, though. By January of 1970, less than a year after the idea for Zebra was born, Gary and Ed had left their full-time jobs and put all of their time into their new company, which was originally called Data Specialties, Inc. In the beginning, they focused on engineering paper tape punches to record point-of-sale (POS) transactions. The young entrepreneurs took risks and, at one point, were $20,000 in debt. However, the use of thermal transfer technology for printing barcodes, as well as the release of the model Z-130, propelled the young company on a path to success. Zebra has not stopped growing since.

Ed Kaplan and Gary Cless, co-founders of Zebra Technologies in a speedboat

Under the leadership of just two CEOs – co-founder Ed Kaplan (1969 until his retirement in 2007) and technology thought leader Anders Gustafsson (2007-present) – Zebra Nation grew from 200 employees in 1991 to 2,000 employees in 2013. Today, we are 7,600 strong. While we still design POS solutions, our visionary ambitions have enabled us to expand our portfolio to include a wide range of mobile computing, scanning, printing, kiosk, RFID, location system and service solutions. We are leveraging Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to enhance the real-time guidance tools we provide to customers, and we are hosting incubator programs that embolden early adopters of advanced technology solutions to develop transformational solutions of their own and refine applications that deliver greater intelligence to global businesses and consumers.

Our current success would not be possible without the tenacity, faith, hard work and creativity that Gary and Ed exhibited throughout their careers. We hope you will join us in celebrating the legacy that they have gifted us as we move forward on our journey to achieve a new set of milestones over the next 50 years.

Your Edge Blog Team
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