Requiem For A Giant

By John Paul Jarvis

Requiem For A Giant

 

I started my career with Kodak (1969 to 1976) during their halcyon days of sales and marketing.

 

I was an eager rookie proud to be employed by the dominant brand supplying hundreds of millions of consumers worldwide.  A certain headiness went with the deference you were granted because of the name.  It’s good to be the king and 90 percent world market share makes you the king.

 

Although the news of the demise of Kodak is not unanticipated, it personally saddens me as the company was very good to me and I hoped things would unfurl in a more positive way. 

 

It has been a long, slippery slope for the former market ruler; regretfully, it was predictable.  I left in the mid ’70s as an upwardly mobile, expensively trained, middle level marketing hopeful.  It was obvious to me then that the company that had educated and groomed me was going to be in deep trouble.  The ambitious younger guys were leaving.  And as the many levels of management were impossible to penetrate, there was such a line up, leaving no bench strength.

 

The corporate culture was incapable of making decisions that outpaced the market because in Kodak’s mind they were the market.   Yes, they held a monopoly for a long time and grew overconfident along the way, not listening and then being eviscerated by their own invention, the digital camera.  They were afraid to take it to market, literally. Now they only hold patents.

 

As Kodak witnessed its core products evaporate, the world took to digital photography like no other imaging trend in the history of the medium.  The various other Kodak markets that were film dependent and excellent bottom line contributors were scuttled as well.  Just think of the X-ray market alone.

 

There is litigation for patent infringement that specifies such large players as Apple, Samsung, Fujifilm and HTC who, if convicted of contravention, would provide much needed royalties for the cash strapped Kodak.  Any fiscal result of any of these outcomes is years ahead.

 

The Japanese were ready with digital technology at every level and bought into the memory business as well.  Margins are nothing like film, but nothing will ever be again.

 

The surprise in the business shakeup is the survival of archrival Fujifilm, which was the only other significant player in the film industry.  They saw digital coming. A new young Fuji CEO defied all of the Japanese corporate precepts, including going against the wishes of his mentor, instituted some huge changes and saved the company in the process.

 

The irony is that Kodak displayed the typical restraint behavior of the Japanese corporate culture; and the Japanese company used American tactics and lived to fight another day.

 





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