Cless was 29 when he co-founded Zebra in 1969 with Ed Kaplan, and he devoted his career to growing the company. Initially, Zebra was known as Data Specialties Corporation, and manufactured high-speed electromechanical products that punched holes in long paper tape to track inventory. Under Cless’ technical and engineering leadership, the company later began development of the first barcode printers in the early 1980s and changed its name to Zebra Technologies in 1986.
Since its founding, Cless has directed the development of numerous label printers and maintained worldwide technology and vendor relationships.
Cless served as a member of the Board of Directors of Zebra since its formation in 1969 as well as corporate secretary from 1969-2005. Cless has served as EVP of Zebra since 1998. He previously served as EVP for engineering and technology for Zebra from 1995 to 1998, after having served as SVP of engineering since 1969. He also served as treasurer of Zebra until 1991.
“Gary was a benevolent and caring leader who had a special gift in taking the complex and making it simple,” Zebra CEO Anders Gustafsson said. “His passion and leadership inspired many innovations and he was truly one of the pioneers in revolutionizing barcode printing. He was known for relating to people on a human level and we will honor his legacy in the best ways we know how - through collaboration and innovation. We will miss him dearly.”
“Gary’s contributions to creating and building Zebra and to innovation in the specialty printing industry are extraordinary by all measures,” added Mike Smith, chairman of the board, Zebra Technologies. "He was an especially positive optimist who saw the best in people, was embraced as mentor and confidant, and believed deeply in the company’s great promise for the future. At the same time, he relished his family roles as husband, father and grandfather and always lived a healthy life balance that inspired us all. Gary’s legacy will live through the company’s special culture and its unwavering commitment to building new technologies.”
Prior to founding Zebra, Cless was a research and development engineer at Teletype Corporation’s printer division. Cless received an MSME degree from Esslingen, Germany, and did graduate work at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
In lieu of flowers, Zebra asks any donations be made in Gary’s name to either the Kellogg Cancer Center, 2650 Ridge Ave., 4th Floor, Evanston, IL 60201 or JourneyCare Midwest Hospice, 2050 Claire Court, Glenview, IL 60025.