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AP EXCLUSIVE: Kodak CEO talks company’s future

September 4, 2013 • National News


In this Aug. 28, 2013 photo, Kodak Research Technician, Grace Bennett, synthesizes proprietary Kodak ink for Kodak print applications in the synthetic chemistry lab at the Kodak research lab in Rochester, N.Y. (AP Photos/Heather Ainsworth)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — You can feel the spirit of George Eastman in Antonio Perez’s office.

A picture of Eastman, who founded Kodak in 1880, sits among the current CEO’s collection of family photos. The outer areas of Perez’s office, built and first inhabited by Eastman about a century ago, include some of Kodak’s Oscar and Emmy awards, along with a collection of historic photos. A large portrait of Eastman, who died in 1932, hangs near the entrance.

Perez’s surroundings serve as a constant reminder of Kodak’s hallowed history in the print and movie film industries — and of the pressure he is under to revive the ailing company.

Kodak emerged from bankruptcy protection Tuesday vastly different from the company of old. Gone are the cameras and film that made it famous. The company hopes to replace them with new technologies such as touch screens for smartphones and smart packaging embedded with sensors. Over Perez’s desk hang pictures depicting Kodak’s future — including one of the company’s ultra-fast commercial inkjet printer, the Prosper Press.

“Look for a case of a company that had to go through this kind of excruciating restructuring and kept innovating,” Perez said. “It just doesn’t happen, but we’ve done it.”

Kodak said its old stock is canceled as of Tuesday. Creditors are getting stock in the restructured company.

The week before Kodak exited Chapter 11 protection, Perez sat down with The Associated Press for a rare 90-minute interview. He spoke candidly about Kodak’s restructuring and laid out his vision for what lies ahead.

—THE DECLINE

Eastman Kodak Co., credited with popularizing photography at the start of the 20th century, started to struggle toward the end of the century, first with Japanese competition and later when it failed to react quickly enough to the shift from film to digital photography.

Perez was appointed CEO in 2005. Under his leadership, the Rochester, N.Y., company had restructured its money-losing film business by 2007. The company closed 13 factories, shuttered 130 film-processing labs and eliminated 50,000 workers around the world at a cost of about $3.4 billion.

Kodak expected demand for film to decline, but gradually. The company anticipated that new demand from emerging markets such as China would offset some of the decline in the United States. But Perez said Chinese consumers opted for smartphones instead of cameras, and demand for film plummeted.

Meanwhile, the economic collapse of 2008 and the resulting plunge in interest rates left some of the company’s pension obligations underfunded. It was those obligations, along with other legacy costs, that Perez said eventually resulted in the January 2012 bankruptcy filing.

Revenue dropped from about $13.3 billion in 2003 to $6 billion in 2011.

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