Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My thoughts on: Rochester vs. Kodak

If you are from the Rochester, NY area, seeing Kodak in the news is as common as the snow. The attention on Kodak has caused a lot of eyes (re: business publications EVERYWHERE) to turn towards Rochester- the place in which George Eastman was born, Kodak was created, and has kept it's headquarters ever since. Like childhood friends, Kodak and Rochester basically grew up together. They faced growing pains, experienced great joy, and each making a lot of memories along the way. 

Lately Kodak has been particularly under the microscope amidst bankruptcy rumors and other financial issues. Don't believe me? Just Google it and choose any of the thousands of articles to learn more. But the article I started my day with hit a particular note. The Wall Street Journal recently published an Opinion article titled "Kodak didn't Kill Rochester. It Was the Other Way Around", by Rich Karlgaard. At the time I am posting there are upwards of 136 comments, most of which strongly oppose Rich's views.

Now, it may be the Rochester pride in me since I was born and raised here. But my gut reaction to the article was largely due to my [generally negative] opinion on how Corporate America works. After sharing the premise of the article at lunch, with someone who works at the Rochester Business Journal,  I felt compelled enough to share my opinion as Rich [please note the sarcasm] so graciously did.  Like many who commented, I too disagree with Rich's statements. Here is why:
  1. No one is perfect: Kodak and Rochester included. But as a writer, Rich had to have known the title, let alone the content, was going to piss off a lot of people. While everyone is entitled to their opinion (especially if that is your job as the WSJ), I think the title was a VERY poor choice of words. If the title was meant to drive readership and attention, well, mission accomplished. But I take issue with the content that was presented to the readers to from this opinion. While drawing bleak comparisons to other cities with companies who have faced their downfall, the article cites a mere three "events" that date back to 40 years ago when Rochester, not to mention the world, was extremely different. 
  2. The blame game: Despite Rochester's continuous "brain drain" of the younger population among other factors that detract from the bright spots of living here, I think it is foolish and short sited to blame an entire city filled with people, many completely removed from the inter-workings of Kodak, for one company's demise. As someone who is under the age of 30 and works at another prevalent Rochester-based corporation that was also stated in this article, I've experienced first hand what ineffective management, lack of vision, and political corruption can do to a business. All of these factors have contributed to Kodak's problems. The key to a business' success is it's leaders. Even with a perfect product and excellent marketing, a company can still be driven to the ground with poor management. I strongly believe that management is the primary force behind the tenacity of an organization. Those who have the responsibility of being a decision maker must be creative visionaries who can balance the need to innovate while holding themselves accountable for the actions necessary to disrupt the market, to stay competitive, and ultimately keep their company profitable. I'm sure Jeff Hayzlett would agree. 
  3. The theory of evolution: Contrary to Rich's statements, I believe Kodak's problem was blindness. Like many corporate giants, that blindness is often caused by an ego, greed, and the inability to get out of their own way. Kodak has been crumbling, clamoring to hold on as a heavy weight in the Rochester business climate for years. But as they stumbled, Rochester was far from being left paralyzed. Nor did it turn it's back on innovation and the ability to embrace change as it's friend Kodak did. As one commenter pointed out, Rochester has become the home of many successful companies contributing to both the American and global economy. New leaders have emerged. Jobs have been created. Other businesses have come and gone. That's called life. Survival of the fittest. Rochester has been able to survive, Kodak is clearly proving otherwise.
I am surprised that in this digital era, Rich can blame the place a company calls "home" on a global organization's downfall. I would challenge Rich to come visit the Rochester area. To see how different it is than the picture he painted. So he could talk to those who have built successful businesses here at the same time Kodak was. Shake the hands of today's business leaders that have helped put and keep Rochester on the map. Read aloud his article to the start-ups that have been forged from Kodak's mistakes. And of course, to visit the George Eastman House, the epitome of the Kodak Moment. So Rich could see Kodak did not kill Rochester. And Rochester did not kill Kodak. Like most friendships, they simply grew apart, valued different things, and took opposite paths on the journey called life.

Update: Someone commented on my Facebook post with a link to this USA Today story on this very topic. I would consider it the antithesis of the the WSJ article, plus it backs up my opinion perfectly. Likewise, I want to make it clear that I do not think all Kodak employees or the entire management team is to blame for the state of the company today. Sometimes good, smart people work for faltering, poor companies. My Uncle Bob and NaNa (whom retired from Kodak) being two of them.

1 comment:

  1. As of January 19th, Kodak has officially filed for Chapter 11. Read more their next moves & what customers can expect here: