I worked for Kodak longer than any employer, almost 13 years. When I left the company in 1998 the stock was trading around $60 a share; last Friday it closed at 78 cents. The reason I left was not because I didn’t enjoy working for Kodak, it just seemed like the grass was greener on the web at the time.
The reasons for Kodak’s current troubles are many and complex but the writing was on the wall when I worked there in 1980’s and ‘90’s. The company had vast R&D resources and actually invented some innovative digital products in the early to mid-1990’s but time to market was always an issue because everything had to be “perfect”. But the biggest problem was that these digital products threatened the high gross margin film business top managers wanted to protect for as long as they could. In the rush to quarterly earnings and shareholder value there was no vision for the impending digital future.
Now 13 years since I departed Kodak Office the company still has no vision. The brand is still surprisingly strong even after more than a decade of not fully responding to the realities of changing technology. It’s clear that the film business is pretty much dead except for fine art, old-school pros and Hollywood. So it should be clear what needs to be done but I don’t see anyone leading the company who has the vision to devise and/or execute a differentiated and sustainable digital strategy. Maybe there’s a Steve Jobs-like visionary who left Kodak and would return to give this a go? I doubt it since people like that didn’t get very far into upper management when I was there.
So it looks like further cuts and selling the crown jewels of the patent portfolio is what is left. That will prop the company up for a few more years but will not save it from the inevitable passing to history. This is very sad for those of us who took pride in working for Kodak. And it is sad that such a powerful brand could not make the transition from one technology to the next. That was the challenge that drew me to working for the company in 1985. Guess I should have taken that job at Aldus instead.