Kaplan an entrepreneur of a different stripe
March 15, 2004
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
From a childhood in
East Rogers Park, Ed Kaplan, CEO of Vernon Hills-based Zebra Technologies,
grew up to become one of Chicago's most successful technology
entrepreneurs. With a recent FDA ruling requiring computer bar
code labeling on most prescription drugs, Kaplan might soon help
prevent the estimated 7,000 annual accidental hospital deaths
resulting from medication errors.
statistics are staggering," says Kaplan, 61. "You have
the ability to save lives and lots of money," he adds.
to the FDA, "the bar code rule, once implemented, will result
in 500,000 fewer adverse events over the next 20 years."
It will also eliminate an estimated "$93 billion in patient
pain, suffering and extension of hospital stays."
stands poised to prosper from the new FDA initiative. Anyone who
becomes ill and visits a hospital is likely to benefit.
trails; bucking trends
to blaze trails as a visionary, yet pragmatic, entrepreneur. He's
delivering a record performance for his investors. He's successfully
bucking trends. He's broadening his company's product line while
simultaneously paving the way for a future generation of Chicago-trained
his entrepreneurial career here in 1969, founding Data Specialties
Inc, a manufacturer of high-speed electromechanical products.
He changed the company's direction to on-demand ticketing and
labeling systems in 1982, rechristening the company Zebra Technologies
Corporation in 1986.
He took the
company public in 1991.
is at the cutting edge of electronic bar code labeling technologies.
Zebra manufactures bar code label printers, receipt printers and
related software and solutions, generating net sales of more than
$536 million in 2003, up 12.8 percent from the previous year.
a wireless checkout lane at Wal-Mart, return your car at Hertz
or buy a ticket at the London Eye, and your receipt might be printed
on Zebra's equipment. Kaplan's company sells to 90 percent of
the Fortune 500 companies and his products are offered in more
than 90 countries.
Not bad for
a fellow who attended Hayt Elementary School and Senn High School
on Chicago's North Side.
in the downturn
In 2001, facing
his first down year since going public, Kaplan "decided not
to do what 95 percent of companies do." He increased spending.
on market development activities, new products and geographic
expansion," Kaplan says. "In the middle of 2002 things
started to turn. By 2003, every quarter was better. We zoomed
thru 2003 with very positive numbers. Our competitors got weaker
and we gained share."
As a result,
Zebra's stock price soared to a 52-week high of $72.84 early last
week before the market correction drove prices down. Last April,
Zebra traded near $38.
focuses on three areas: mobile wireless technology, RFID technology
and business improvement applications. He's looking to apply his
bar code printing and labeling capabilities to any industry where
he can improve performance. Health care is his prime example.
major donor to entrepreneurship programs at the Illinois Institute
of Technology and the University of Chicago, where he earned degrees.
the creation of a business plan competition in 1996, well before
it was fashionable," says Ellen Rudnick, clinical professor
of entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Graduate School
of Business. "Over 30 new business ventures have been launched
from this program."
recalls his Chicago youth. As a boy of five, he routinely visited
his father's furniture factory, learning to operate each of the
machines. By his teenage years, he was investing in the stock
market. Anticipating the potential of color television, Kaplan
bought shares of Zenith and Motorola, doing "quite well,"
he relates. He credits his early investing skills with generating
the seed capital for his entrepreneurial ventures.
concern: "New business growth in Chicago in the technology
area is pretty much non-existent. We educate an awful lot of people.
Yet for some reason the companies that get spawned, don't get
spawned in Chicago." Maybe some enterprising student at Hayt,
Senn, IIT or the U. of C. will pick up that challenge.
Michael Krauss is a Chicago based tech writer and consultant,
and senior vice president for Hostway Corp., Chicago.