zebra technologies has a unique challenge: convincing roboticists and highly-skilled tech workers that it’s more than a retail and storage technology company. The company, known for its barcode scanners and mobile payment devices, is pivoting to expand into robotics, machine vision and retail software. In 2021, the company invested in a robotics business and bought Fetch Robotics, a developer of autonomous mobile robots, in a $290 million deal. He now he needs talent to support his new business.
In 2020, Jeff Schmitz was chosen to take over. Schmitz, who has been the company’s chief marketing officer for nearly seven years, is now its CHRO as well. He is tasked with leading the company into its next phase of growth while changing the way potential talent perceives the company. The last directive is where your marketing skills come into play. Schmitz spoke with Fortune about how he’s repositioning the brand to attract more talent and why his marketing background makes him a good fit to oversee Zebra’s nearly 10,000 employees.
This interview has been edited and summarized for clarity.
Fortune: What brought you to your current combined CMO and CHRO role at Zebra?
I am an engineer and computer scientist by training. I came to Zebra to be the CMO in 2016 and held that role through 2020 as my primary responsibility. About two years ago, our CEO asked me to take the CHRO position, which was actually something he wanted to do. I saw it as a learning area for me.
As I like to say, it’s probably the best and most challenging time to be in HR because it’s never been more important. We’ve gone from everyone going home to worrying about how to get back to the office and dealing with wellness and burnout.
How did your marketing experience show up in your early days as CHRO?
It was November 2020 and we were in the midst of the pandemic, beyond the early days of everyone working remotely. First we had to make sure we were communicating effectively with our 10,000 employees who were all home. This hits the sweet spot between the marketing role and CHRO; it starts with communication, and that has become increasingly important.
Can you describe the unique talent challenge at Zebra Technologies?
We are really in transition, moving from our core business to redefining what work looks like. We’re number one in key spaces (barcode printing, scanning, mobile computing), so it makes sense that you’d be looking to join Zebra if you’re in one of those businesses. But even though we’re a company with roughly $6 billion in revenue, you might not think of Zebra as the place for machine vision, robotics, or even software. And therein lies some of the challenges we have as we evolve the business. We need to be vigilant in retaining our people, attracting people, particularly in these new areas, and developing them.
How have you used marketing techniques to attract new talent?
We started saying, ‘Hey, when people search for products, where do they go?’ Most searches occur in Google either Amazon. And that’s why there’s a huge advertising budget that people put into search engine marketing or search engine optimization. Now, we’re using those tools for talent. If I’m looking for a job in robotics, how do I make sure I show up where the robotics specialists are? How do we use marketing dollars to get ads in front of those people to attract them to our talent pool, and how do we do it proactively? So advertising, particularly digital advertising, has been very effective for talent acquisition.
What other traits have helped you lead marketing and human resources? Most people have heard of the “rule of seven”, which means that if someone sees something seven times, they are more likely to remember it. Have you brought theories like that to human resources?
The rule of seven is good. The other one I like is ‘when time management gets tired of saying something, that’s when people start to understand’. You need to over communicate. We use a lot of tools like our intranet and we also send videos to the marketing and HR teams every month or so.
Have you had to make any brand changes to attract new types of talent?
We have people within the company who own the employee value proposition, and that needs to be combined with marketing. Having the link between marketing and human resources helps ensure that interconnection occurs. When posting ads or a company image to be an employer of choice in robotics, software, or places where we’re not experts, it’s essential to overlay that message and have the right materials.
What do you think are the headwinds in the talent market that make it possible for a CMO to also be an effective HR leader?
I think there are a couple of different directions for CMOs. One is that he sees a trend for CMOs to stay where they are. There is a lot of value in marketing standing alone. At times, you also see marketing moving more toward a chief revenue officer. But I’ve also met quite a few people who have connected marketing with human resources. And again, it’s for the reasons I mentioned before; They are people who understand the business. Sometimes having a good understanding of that business is a good backdrop for running HR.
You can find domain human resources experts. But it’s also important to have someone who understands the business, connects with the executive team and helps people understand HR and how it’s connected to the business.
The headwind for everyone will be what happens with the macroeconomic situation. Everyone is worried about it. We see what is happening in the stock market, interest rates and the desire to slow down the economy. It’s going to have a ripple effect, and the question is, how do we navigate that? I don’t know exactly what’s next, but it seems that the macroeconomic situation could be changing and that will change what happens with talent.
Around the table
– The United States added 263,000 jobs in September, up from 315,000 the previous month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics report released this morning. The drop indicates a slowdown in the labor market. Wall Street Journal
– Peloton announced it would lay off 500 employees in its third round of job cuts this year. The company has cut some 3,000 jobs since June 2021. New York Times
– Amazon will raise starting pay to $19 an hour and offer signing bonuses of up to $3,000 as it seeks to hire roughly 150,000 vacation workers. CNBC
– Tyson will close its Chicago offices and relocate its employees to Arkansas. CNN
– The pandemic has made some employers fearful of laying off workers, even when a recession seems possible. vox
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