Friday, January 20, 2012 at 12:00PM
By NYIP Director Chuck DeLaney - The word of Kodak’s middle-of-the-night Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing earlier this week came as no surprise to anyone who has kept an eye on the company. Kodak seemed to have lost its footing in the photo space even before the likes of Sony and Panasonic turned up on the trade show floor of the annual Photo Marketing Association winter convention. PMA itself is having a tough go of it, but that’s a story for another day.
Perhaps an even sadder moment was when Kodak was booted from the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1984, ending a 74-year run. It’s easy to understand how so many executives missed the digital boom. Even years after the people who see well into the future saw what was going to happen, Kodak’s paper-and-processing business remained so profitable that there were other priorities.
I remember an industry dinner in New York City perhaps ten or twelve years ago, during the days when flatfooted Dan Carp was CEO, where Kodak executives sat at their table and enjoyed the food and beverages while a newly-minted Nikon executive presented various parts of the early Coolpix line. One drunk Kodak executive roared, “She’s wearing glasses. We should make our marketing guy wear glasses.”
Someone should have done something. Kodak’s workforce, now 17,000, reached its peak in 1984 when the company employed 145,000 people. While downtown Rochester, NY has hit the skids, employment in the metro Rochester area has grown and many small tech companies now enjoy the services of highly-skilled former Kodak workers.
Regardless of what the future holds, and the company he founded have left an indelible mark on Rochester. Eastman’s former home on a main downtown street now houses the George Eastman House, a remarkable museum of photography and the history of photo technology. Eastman had a strong philanthropic streak that was of benefit to Rochester and other communities around the world. Hopefully the next step won’t be the company’s obituary.