Eastman Kodak Files for Bankruptcy, Could Have Been the First Facebook

My blog post title may reflect my age, but for us Boomers, Kodak really was the first Facebook.  We trusted Kodak with our precious film, and it magically turned it into keepsakes we could share with anyone around the world, albeit at the speed of an aircraft and not light.  Karen’s family took (and still takes) thousands of photos each year.  Mine took fewer, but plenty enough.  Karen and I then did the same once our children were born, filling a score of photo albums with the years and sub-years stenciled or written on the spines.  Then our habits changed.  First we requested photos to be written onto a CD, then we trusted it to the Cloud via Shutterfly, before it was called the Cloud.  Then I took great (for me) pictures of my trips to Istanbul and Punta Del Este, Uruguay using my 5 MP camera on my Blackberry Bold in 2008, and posted them to our blog without ever getting any of the pictures printed.

Where was Kodak when all of our family photography behaviors were changing?  It’s too long and painful a story to write about here, although I discuss it in my leadership development programs.  One example of the firm’s inevitable demise should suffice.  When I was a newly minted Ph.D. back in 1992, Kodak’s Imaging Division flew me up to its headquarters in Rochester to consult with them about a downsizing effort they were contemplating.  They had read my research with my colleagues Kim Cameron and Sarah Freeman at the University of Michigan on how to do downsizing effectively, achieving both bottom-line improvements while actually enabling employees to redesign their jobs so that layoffs could be minimized or even avoided altogether.

I should have known something was wrong from the moment I arrived at the headquarters.  Instead of meeting with the division president as I had been led to believe I would be doing, I spent the entire day with two employees from the organizational development staff.  Rather than seeking my help in crafting an effective downsizing strategy, they had hired me to help them craft a communications plan for a strategy the top brass had already decided upon, one which involved a lot of layoffs.  I tried my best to get them to change their minds, but even though those two employees agreed with me, they had no influence to change the strategy.  So my first big consulting engagement was a failure.  Yes, I collected a nice check for my one day’s work, but as I flew back to State College, PA where I was an assistant professor at Penn State, I knew that Kodak was embarking on the road to failure.  The destruction of a brand trusted by tens of millions, the loss of tens of thousands of jobs lost, and billions in equity gone forever would be the result of a firm that downsized rather than innovated.

For information about the bankruptcy announcement, please go to the Dealbook article.

For a timeline of the company put together by the Wall Street Journal, go here.

For a discussion in the Wall Street Journal as to whether filing for bankruptcy will save Kodak, go here.