The CEO’s Key to Growing a $5 Billion Company: Prioritizing Employee Well-being

In our ongoing journey for The CEO Series, we’ve encountered companies spanning various sizes and industries. For this episode, our focus shifts to a colossal player in the B2B technology realm: Zebra Technologies. Renowned for its prowess in digitizing and automating workflows for businesses worldwide, Zebra boasts approximately 10,000 employees and generates around $5 billion in revenue. I had the privilege of sitting down with CEO Bill Burns to delve into the intricacies of leading such a mammoth operation.

Below, I’ve distilled some key highlights from our enlightening conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.

Worldwide Reach

“Our company, Zebra Technologies, plays a ubiquitous role in everyday life. We specialize in providing digital solutions that empower businesses to intelligently connect data, assets, and people. You’ll encounter our technology at various touchpoints throughout your daily routines: from the point-of-sale checkout at your local supermarket to the moment a postal worker delivers a package to your doorstep and countless other scenarios in between. Our mobile devices are instrumental in facilitating tasks like package scanning and obtaining signatures. 

Notably, a staggering 86 percent of Fortune 500 companies, including the largest retailers worldwide, rely on our solutions. We cater to a diverse range of industries, spanning retail, transportation, logistics, manufacturing, warehousing, healthcare, and government sectors. Through our innovative technologies, we strive to enhance efficiency, productivity, and connectivity across these critical sectors, ultimately driving meaningful impact in the global marketplace.”

The NFL Connection

As a company, we proudly partner with the NFL, leveraging our expertise in tracking technology. We utilize the same types of tags commonly employed in retail or transportation logistics to meticulously track every aspect of the game, from cleats and shoulder pads to helmets worn by players. Initially, the NFL’s adoption of our technology was driven by the desire to enhance fan engagement and enrich the broadcast experience. 

However, as our partnership has evolved, our technology’s applications have expanded to prioritize the health and safety of players.

Through our tracking solutions, we enable the NFL to monitor player equipment in real time, ensuring that each piece meets safety standards and remains in optimal condition throughout gameplay. This proactive approach not only safeguards the well-being of athletes but also enhances the overall integrity of the sport. Our collaboration with the NFL exemplifies our commitment to leveraging innovative technology to address evolving challenges and deliver tangible benefits across diverse industries and contexts.

The CEO’s Pathway

My career journey began in sales, where I initially worked for a major telecommunications company, focusing on sales initiatives targeted at prominent clients like Verizon and others. Subsequently, I transitioned into a leadership role overseeing Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, where I expanded my responsibilities beyond sales to encompass marketing, services, and various other areas.

Around nine years ago, I embarked on a new chapter by joining Zebra Technologies, where I assumed a pivotal role in leading the acquisition strategy. At that time, Zebra was primarily known as a billion-dollar specialty printing business. However, through strategic acquisitions, particularly the acquisition of Motorola’s enterprise business, valued at two and a half billion dollars, Zebra’s business landscape underwent a significant transformation practically overnight. This acquisition propelled Zebra’s revenue to new heights, skyrocketing from a $1 billion business to a formidable $3.5 billion enterprise.

Through these diverse experiences and strategic endeavors, I have gained invaluable insights and expertise, contributing to both my personal growth and the success of the organizations I’ve had the privilege to be a part of.

Leadership Roles and Responsibilities

In my perspective, our business operates on three fundamental pillars, akin to the legs of a stool: our customers, our employees, and our investors. While our primary objective is undoubtedly to foster growth and profitability, it’s imperative to prioritize the right actions.

First and foremost, investing in our employees is paramount. By cultivating an environment that rewards, attracts, and retains top talent worldwide, we establish a foundation for success. A dedicated and motivated workforce is better equipped to serve our customers effectively, thereby driving customer satisfaction and loyalty.

By prioritizing customer satisfaction, we bolster our top-line revenue and profitability. Satisfied customers not only contribute to our financial success but also serve as advocates for our brand, further fueling our growth trajectory.

Ultimately, by delivering value to both our customers and employees, we fulfill our obligation to our investors. A strong track record of customer satisfaction and financial performance translates to increased shareholder value and confidence in our business.

Guiding Through Adversity

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we experienced an unprecedented surge in demand for our services, which presented both opportunities and challenges. However, by 2023, we observed a reset in demand levels, reverting back to pre-pandemic conditions experienced in 2019. This necessitated a strategic reassessment of our business operations to adapt to the evolving landscape.

To navigate through these challenging times, we undertook a series of proactive measures commonly employed by businesses facing similar circumstances. This included a comprehensive review of our internal expenses, particularly focusing on real estate and travel costs, to identify areas for optimization and cost savings.

Additionally, we implemented initiatives such as voluntary retirement programs to streamline our workforce while simultaneously exploring new opportunities for existing employees within the organization. Despite the inherent difficulty associated with downsizing, these measures proved effective in aligning our operations with the prevailing market conditions.

While the process of downsizing can be challenging, requiring tough business decisions, it was essential for ensuring the long-term sustainability and resilience of our organization. Although the prospect of growth is inherently more appealing, demonstrating adaptability and resilience during times of adversity is equally crucial for navigating through uncertainty and positioning ourselves for future success.

Guidance for Emerging Leaders

Take ownership of your career journey because nobody else will prioritize it as much as you will. Remember, success doesn’t happen overnight, so exercise patience and persistence. If you’re fortunate to be part of a fantastic company with ample growth opportunities, recognize that there’s no better place to be valued and respected. Trust that your organization acknowledges your readiness for advancement, and trust the process while maintaining patience.

Also Read: UAE Freelance Job Registrations Soar as Average Salary Hits Dh37,000