Proof Kodak Was Doomed, 14 Years Ago

Resistance to change apparently a long problem for EK

By Jeff Reeves

Eastman Kodak (NYSE:EK) is in it deep. While Kodak is is trying to stave off bankruptcy via restructuring, crippling debt and troubles turning a profit mean there isn’t much time on the clock. Back in November I wrote that Kodak stock was headed to zero, and at less than a dollar it looks like that prediction could be true before the year is out.

Amid all the mayhem, I got a great note from a reader last week. Floyd, who now lives in sunny California but was an employee of Kodak from 1965 to 1991, passed on an article written about the Rochester, N.Y., company’s trouble amid a changing business landscape.

Floyd passed on an article from the Democrat and Chronicle dated Jan. 5, 1998. The headline? “Can Kodak Make Necessary Changes” One excerpt reads, “The solution to Kodak’s problems is deceptively simple, but thwarted by a culture of fear in which management cannot afford the risk of ‘looking bad.’”

Kodak clipping
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Click on the image to the right to enlarge it and take a peek for yourself.

Considering Kodak invented some of the first digital camera technology but refused to move beyond traditional film until it was way too late, that seems like an eerie commentary of a culture that persisted over the last 14 years and probably persisted long before this article was written.

Floyd adds his two cents:

Thinking back to the late 80’s when I was a technician in the Copy Products Division, my co-workers and I would have discussions about the future of Kodak’s copiers. Back then, the digital age was just coming to light, so of course, we had no idea where that would end up.

Later he wrote:

I saved the story because back in October, 1988, I had submitted an idea to Kodak’s Office of Innovation describing a device wherein one could write with a stylus on an electronic display and that information would be sent to a large screen or a computer monitor. In spite of the fact that the company claimed it was looking for new ideas, this one, after being bounced around, went no place. Of course today, these things are everywhere.

Mr. Tuite’s article came out 10 years later and it kind of hit home.  Kodak is a wonderful company, and I received three patents during my time in Copy Products, but I believe the thinking was too conservative when it came to pursuing certain new ideas.

I was fortunate to have been able to take advantage of the 1991 early retirement program. Actually, I had a 5-day window in which I qualified. Best move I ever made!

Many thanks to Floyd for sharing his experiences, and this throwback article.

Jeff Reeves is the editor of Write him at [email protected], follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP and become a fan of InvestorPlace on Facebook. Jeff Reeves holds a position in Alcoa, but no other publicly traded stocks.

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