Kodak’s Downfall Wasn’t About Technology?  Are you kidding me!

I’ve seen this article posted a few times around the social media sites from HBR (Harvard Business Review) titled, “Kodak’s Downfall Wasn’t About Technology”.  Maybe the author was simply looking for clickbait.  Maybe he honestly feels that Kodak’s downfall really did have something to do with film or the random family camera that every household had.  That would explain his opening dialog.  He writes, “Given that Kodak’s core business was selling film, it is not hard to see why the last few decades proved challenging.”

It wasn’t so much the article that concerned me, but the number of comments, likes, and thumbs up from people that clearly know little about the industry Kodak was in.  Kodak was ONLY a film and camera company to you, the consumer.   They could have stopped producing either decades ago, sold off their manufacturing segment, and it wouldn’t have mattered one bit.  Why?

Kodak, just like IBM, Xerox, and Motorola, are research and development corporations that assist with their branding by way of consumer products.  YOU are not their focus.  Simply a reaper of benefits from their mad science labors.  But wait!  Everything is about us consumers!  Do you know how much film they would have to sell to equal the revenue just one of their NASA or government contracts from the 80’s had?  How many camera’s your house and every other house in the country would have to have to match their B2B sales?

So what happened to Kodak?

When I was a younger gentlemen just starting out in the corporate world I was interning with a company called Unisys.  A name only a handful of people might recognize in modern day.  Fewer still would recognize the name Burroughs or Sperry.  On one particular day I was invited out to lunch with a couple of the engineers there and learned my first, and probably most intriguing,  lesson in the Innovation industry.

If you want to find out what happened to a tech company, don’t bother interviewing the executives or management (or random online authors that know little about R&D), go ask the people who most often have their names stamped right next to the company’s when filing with the United States Patent Office (USPTO).

A FAR MORE INTERESTING article, read the one by IEEE.  Yes, the international engineering group.  Link here: http://spectrum.ieee.org/at-work/innovation/the-lowballing-of-kodaks-patent-portfolio

Kodak didn’t go belly up, it deflated from the inside out as it slowly failed to retain its innovation and R&D engineers during the 90’s “let’s outsource everything it’s cheaper” phase.  Thus losing its technology and patent portfolio revenue competitive edge.


Did you know that Kodak had a live nuclear reactor in the basement of its New York office till just a couple years ago?  Think about that. . .  Kodak actually had nuclear scientists working for them at one point and it wasn’t for YOUR film.  Did you know that Kodak didn’t sell all of its patents?

I’ll end with an old corporate innovation joke that I believe is probably more closer to the issue: if you have a company with nothing but 1,000 engineers, you’ll probably have 2,000 products for sale.  But when you have a company with nothing but 1,000 managers, you’re going to end up with a public offering and a penny stock.

Perhaps the history channel will put together a series called, “Where are Kodak’s top scientists and engineers from the 70’s and 80’s now?”

Jon Liebertz

{ Business Technologist and On-demand Technology Solutions}
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