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Thursday, 07 January 2010

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One would think that Kodak should be able to project a better image.

Looks like there's hope for Kodak yet...

Or, if not, I understand NBC is looking for a new late-night talk-show host.

--Marc

The "Old Kodak" was a presence indeed. I funded my McGill University costs woking in a camera store in Montreal. Kodak ruled. In Quebec the name for all cameras was "Le Kodak". I don't think that is still the case but when your product name is synonymous with the generic object you do rule your world however temporarily. No need to take advantage of a photographer going to their museum by asking a few product-oriented questions. That's why corporations fail.
Hope Hayzlett can turn it around.
BD

Fined?

Now that is what I call a leading question.

Mind the CMO isn't very bright either; but I had a laugh.

Some monopolies don't last forever,
be they buggy whip manufactureres or
producers of products to save and reproduce images. General Motors is now small enough
to eventually fail. Kodak is failing, and it will it time. Polaroid is a shadow of itself.

A very interesting story! Quite an observation on corporate culture. I have one too: Two decades ago, I had just joined U of Rochester when I got invited to Manila on a conference. They paid business class which somehow got upgraded to first class for free. That was the first time I flew first class (or even business class) or ever since! By my side was an attractive woman who turned out to be a CEO somewhere. After about 10 min of conversation about her company and the fall of Berlin wall she asked me what did I do. I had to confess that I was a poor assistant prof. That was the last time she uttered a word to me in the remaining 18 hours of flight!

Bryce Lee wrote: Some monopolies don't last forever, be they buggy whip manufactureres or producers of products to save and reproduce images.

Interesting example you chose there, Bryce. George Eastman founded the Eastman Dry Plate Co. in 1881 together with his friend and associate, Henry Alvah Strong...a local buggy whip manufacturer.

Mind the CMO isn't very bright either

Not sure how you could determine that from a short video of a much longer speech. To me, he seems like a guy more interested in results than in corporate red tape. If Kodak is going to survive, and there is no reason it cannot, then it's going to need people like him.

I am not being callous. Every roll of film, every sheet of paper, and every chemical was Kodak - just like Karsh.

Businesses are like people - they have a life span. If Kodak goes out of existence, there will be something new. Just like when a person dies, a baby is born.

That's the normal course of events. And Kodak now has to compete with Casio, not just Fuji.

One more note: remember DuPont once made enlarging paper, Varigam and Velour Black? What's the market today for silver halide paper?

Either the portrait is heavily photoshoped "a-la-Ralph-Laurens-gate", or this guy has been recently quite stressed up,right?

Or the lens used for that picture is a very flattering "alter-the-reality" type Soviet Helios 44.

Just sayin´.

Inaki,
Or, more likely, the portrait was made a while back.

Reminds me of one of my favorite portrait tricks...I just wait five years before I give it to the person. At the time they would have "hated" it (because few people look as good in photographs as they think they ought to), but after a few years, the usual response is, "Hey, I actually look pretty good in this! You're a very talented photographer!"

[s]

Mike

My favorite corporate story involving the photo industry is quite recent: the appointment of Lady Gaga as Polaroid's new Creative Director.

My meagre contribution to the study of corporate politics can be found here: http://roberts-rants.blogspot.com/2005/06/corporate-politics.html

Mike
I should have put smileys, giggles or winks or whatever applicable there [the guy on the corporate portrait has a considerable bigger ammount of hair, and it is indeed darker than the other teleshop guy on the video -g-].

Nevertheless, you should know better*.
Nowadays, the theory of "made a while back" is not applicable.
Nowadays it is either photoshop, or an optical trick, or plastic surgery.

Gosh, these are good times, aren´t they?

* tongue in cheek, obviously.

Misha
I printed on both of those DuPont papers. They were the best B&W papers of their day.
I pouted for five years when they were discontinued.

Hey Mike,

Growing up with Kodak in Rochester NY, it pains me to no end to see how they've fallen. They were one of the truly great innovative companies to work for, certainly in the timeframe that I'm familiar with (60's, 70's, 80's), but a spectacularly consistant series of very poor management decisions has really gotten them to where they are today.

Your story is pretty funny---I'm wondering what the timeframe for that was (probably 80's or 90's??). When I was a kid (born in '61), Kodak had some truly wonderful education programs and were very open with leading tours through their various facilities (I did most of mine through explorer scouts). I started working there in 1978 as a high school co-op. Had three years of summer jobs in the paper sensitizing area and an engineering division. Got my first job out of a post-doc with 'Eastman Pharmaceuticals', when Kodak bought Sterling Winthrop. But within a few years they decided to shed 'non-core' businesses like the Pharma group (because there's no money in that...) and focus on core technology (like silver halide). There were a ton of very bright scientists and engineers inventing all sorts of cool stuff (somewhat like Bell Labs), and some of it had pratical (read commercial) usages as well.

Kodak basically developed much of the digital camera technology years before the other companies started. It's amazing that they never brought it to a dominant commercial position (they should have owned it).

Oh well. Now they blow up old buildings to save on taxes...

Jim

I like Jeffrey Hayzlett's energy. You need a few over-the-top guys like that in corporate funeral parlors. Speaking from experience, while they can be occasionally grating they can more often be energizing forces.

And he's right; Kodak has actually made significant progress in its digital conversion. Their "Easy Share" system is among the top brands among the soccer mom crowd.

But as photography transforms into a far more virtual than physical activity Kodak remains somewhat hampered by its real and psychological tethers to the good ol' days when photography was "real". Consequently it's jettisoning assets that may be valuable in the near future, such as is OLED (organic light emitting diode) display technology, to pay for what amounts to funeral expenses.

Everything dies. They had a wonderful run.

I read a fascinating book a few years ago about the US maket system I recommend everybody as soon as they give me the slightest excuse -like now- Robert Reich's Supercapitalism, where I learned that the vast majority of the large corporations that control it were born in the late 19th century or before the 20s.

Seems bussinesses are not neccesarily like people: besides having no empathy or loyalty to anybody (much less to its employees, at least in the Western World) they can last much longer.

"Consequently it's jettisoning assets that may be valuable in the near future"

Kodak has the habit of shooting itself in the foot. Remember the Retina Reflex? They killed it off, and replaced it with an Instamatic. Huh?

Remember, they had a combo camera/mp3 player, and conceded the market. What gives with them?

Great one. I'm forwarding this to all 250 people on email-of-the-day list.

Happens to lots of big companies, they get to a point where they think they are ten feet tall and can see every thing coming. Biggest part of process is when you forget or do not update your mission in life. If the Kodak mission had been "Provide pictures" instead of sell film and paper for pictures they would have seen this coming a lot sooner. Same case has been made for GE who refused stray from the the DC Motor business, most of that business is now AC and they are slowly grinding to a halt.

Bill

I work as a small town family physician about an hour away from Rochester; over the years I have taken care of many Kodak employees. As a passionate amateur photographer, I naturally yakked about the photo business with many of them. Most were line workers on the giant film coating & processing units, and one by one these folks saw their jobs evaporate in the face of the digital juggernaut. But I also got to speak with some scientist and manager types.

I had the most depressing conversations with an engineer (now retired) who worked in Kodak's digital research labs. He related how they'd developed numerous promising technologies, from molded glass lenses to novel digital sensors, only to see them languish undeveloped or get sold to third parties for pennies on the dollar.

Like a number of big U.S. companies, Kodak was 'managed' right into the ground by an inbred cohort of blindered executives who seem to have focused exclusively on the next quarterly P/L statement rather than long term goals. And APS was an epic fiasco, sinking over a billion dollars into a new film format just in time to be crushed by the digital tsunami. It has to be an object lesson in 'what not to do' for business schools these days.

Kodak is still amputating limbs in an apparently futile attempt to stanch the bleeding. They just sold one of their most promising technologies, the organic LED, to a Korean company for a relative pittance. Kodak increasingly resembles the limbless knight in "Monte Python and the Holy Grail" ("It's just a scratch. Come back here and fight, ya cowards")

Javier,

Many of the largest companies were indeed born in the late 19th or early 20th century, but most of the major companies in the late 19th century or early 20th century are no longer in existence. And those companies were BIG. US Steel had a market capitalization that would be comparable to Microsoft today. Check out the book Why Most Things Fail by the economist Paul Ormerod. He has a table of the largest 100 industrial companies in 1912. By 1995 only 19 of them remained in the top 100 and 29 of them were bankrupted or the remainder were no longer in business under their own name.

Businesses are not "like people", but they are run by people and of course all people are flawed. I would suggest that corporations today show the same level of loyalty towards their employees that employees show towards their employers.

"Polaroid is a shadow of itself."

Less than a shadow, and more. Even as the corporation dies an ugly death, surrounded by sleaze, Polaroid the celebrated cultural icon somehow survives more or less undamaged, thanks probably to nostalgia and rabid fans. One more shady indignity to come, though, as creditors try to auction off Land's historic photo collection.

The end of the story (in the video) is that Kodak renamed the device the "Playsport". Not earth-shattering as far as I'm concerned, but better than "Zi8".

@ Animesh Ray - she may have been attractive on the outside.....

One of the best jobs I ever had was traveling around the U.S. as a photographer for Kodak when I was only 17 years old. The good news was they paid me well, gave me a company car and nice expense account. The bad news was I had to wear a white shirt and tie.

That dress code saved my butt when I got pulled over for speeding somewhere in Kansas. I showed the officer my itinerary and said I worked for Kodak and didn't want to be late for the next stop. He lectured me for twenty minutes but eventually sent me on my way without giving me a ticket.

Regarding David Dyer-Bennet's comment, Apple certainly seems to be quite happy to disrupt themselves as well as competitors. They're hurting much of their own desktop line with notebooks, the iPhone/iPod touch are cannibalizing the classic iPod.

The trick is that their ecosystem creates a halo effect, so even while creating new product lines to disrupt older ones, their overall customer base keeps expanding.

It remains to be seen whether they're able/willing to disrupt music sales with a subscription service, but music sales in and of themselves aren't a profit center, apparently.

I would say that, at least with Jobs at the helm, Apple is the company most likely to successfully reinvent themselves repeatedly.

I think Kodak *tried* to out-compete themselves, only they failed. In the nineties you didn't see anybody as active in digital media as Kodak, with the "Photo CD" and the big digital cameras in collaboration with Canon and Nikon, and surely things I didn't notice at the time.
Same with Hasselblad. They made some of the earliest gear for sending pictures over the phone, for example.
And Leica, for good measure, they had this ground-breaking camera, the S1.

I guess camera makers just can't outcompete the electronics giants, or maybe it's just that the Asians are the 800-pound gorillas in this field.

"I had to confess that I was a poor assistant prof. That was the last time she uttered a word to me in the remaining 18 hours of flight!"

Hahahaaaah! That's far out.

Funny, I never meet people like that. Perhaps because I don't fly first class. I could afford it, but I think it's an obscene waste of money just to get better arm rests and free booze.

My sense is that Kodak, like many companies that grew to be enormous, forgot its original mission. In Kodak's case that was helping people make pictures. As time went on Kodak decided its core business was not helping people make pictures but selling chemicals through the photo business. That blinded the company to digital's possibilities in spite of Kodak researchers' pioneering work. I think this reasoning applies to industries such as newspapers -- the product is information, not the paper it's printed on.
Now Kodak seems to be back on the picture-making track but clearly having trouble nailing down how that will work for the company, if it's not too late. I hadn't heard the OLED story. That's a damn shame (like Leica in the '70s having invented autofocus and selling it to Minolta). I guess it's tough to foresee the future even when it's a multiple choice test presented to you by your own R&D people.

Joseph,
Leica didn't invent autofocus and sell it to Minolta. Honeywell invented autofocus and Minolta infringed its patents.

Mike

The CEO is doing what is needed, and that is "something." "Anything." Mosts corporate cultures prevent that, unless others in the culture agree, of course.

Mike,
What really went on with autofocus technology? I see lots of references to Leica's sale of autofocus patents to Minolta in the '70s, and lots of references to Honeywell's suits against Minolta and other major camera makers in the '80s, but haven't found anything that really explains what happened.

Joseph,
I'll see if we can cover that some time. But not now. I'm swamped with stuff to do.

Mike

"Kodak was 'managed' right into the ground by an inbred cohort of blindered executives who seem to have focused exclusively on the next quarterly P/L statement rather than long term goals."

Yes ... when the whole system is underlain with quarterly results, you tend to manage to that, then it becomes gospel.

"My sense is that Kodak, like many companies that grew to be enormous, forgot its original mission. In Kodak's case that was helping people make pictures."

I would suggest it wasn't making pictures, rather making memories. We here are a photography centred lot, while the vast majority of pictures made are for the sake of memories and sharing. Yes, Kodak made professional photography possible as well, and when digital still imaging began to take root, they couldn't manage to imagine the technology as continuing the memory-making/sharing activity of their major market.

Further to the issues with management, my father-in-law, a former manager of supplies management at EK, is of the opinion that the multiple (unnecessary) layers of management so thoroughly ingrained regimentation (i.e., become what your boss is so you can get promoted,) that people literally could not think outside of any box, no matter how small.

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