Anders Gustafsson – CEO, Zebra Technologies

Anders Gustafsson became chief executive officer and a director of Zebra on September 4, 2007. Prior to joining Zebra Technologies, Mr. Gustafsson served as CEO of Spirent Communications plc, a publicly-traded telecommunications company.

At Spirent, Mr. Gustafsson redirected that company’s growth strategy, divested non-core operations, integrated historic acquisitions, and streamlined the organization to realize significant cost savings. Prior to Spirent, he was senior executive vice president, global business operations, of Tellabs, Inc. While at Tellabs, Mr. Gustafsson also served as president, Tellabs International, as well as president, global sales, and vice president and general manager, Europe, Middle East and Africa. Earlier in his career, he held executive positions with Motorola and Network Equipment Technologies. Mr. Gustafsson has an MBA from the Harvard Graduate School of Business and a Master of Science in electrical engineering from Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. He was a Fulbright Scholar and received numerous fellowships and scholarships for academic excellence.

How did the concept for Zebra come about?
With a capital investment of $1,000 back in February 1969, engineers Ed Kaplan and Gary Cless, both in their mid-to-late 20s and employed by Teletype Corp, started their own part-time venture called Data Specialties Inc. (DSI), engaged on consulting and other small projects. Most notably, they developed a tape punch to record transactions at the point of sale (POS). By July 1969, they had an order for 500 POS paper tape punches.

What was your marketing strategy?
DSI featured its first two products in print ads that showcased the customer benefits of the products and low cost. Trade shows also proved successful to demonstrate products directly to potential customers.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
By 1975, the company’s sales grew to $500,000 based on its paper tape solution. In 1982, DSI created the first barcode printer, changing its focus to specialty, on-demand labeling and ticketing systems. That year, company sales exceeded $5 million. And in 1986, DSI changed its name to Zebra Technologies, aligned with its introduction of the world’s first thermal printer for on-demand barcode labeling (picture the stripes in the barcode).

How do you define success?
A strong vision that engages customers and ultimately delivers good performance.

What is the key to success?
The keys to success are the 4 Rs – results, reciprocity, risk, and resilience.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
I have a truly international view. I grew up in Sweden, traveled extensively, and lived in Asia. My greatest lesson involves embracing diversity – listen carefully – lots of cultural differences but lots of commonalities!
A) Perspective on culture is very relevant to role as CEO (especially when bringing two corporate cultures together)
B) Create and share a VISION that all stakeholders can rally around

What are some quotes that you live by?
“The definition of luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”

What are some of your favorite books?
I enjoy reading biographies (e.g. Steve Jobs), business books (Satya Nadella’s Hit Refresh) and mystery books (Graham Greene).

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The tougher days are when you are working hard but can’t catch a break – things just aren’t falling your way. This is when you need the resilience to stay the course.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I deeply believe in our vision and strategy and a fear of failure.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Stay close to your customers. Be prepared to pivot and adjust strategy as needed. And again, tap into a deep reservoir of resilience.

This interview was conducted for research purposes by Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.