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FILE - In this late 1020's file photo, Eastman Kodak Co. founder George Eastman, left, and Thomas Edison pose with their inventions in a photograph taken in the late 1920s. Their contributions, Edison invented motion picture equipment and Kodak invented roll-film and the camera box, helped create the motion picture industry. Buffeted by fierce foreign competition, then blindsided by a digital revolution, photography icon Eastman Kodak Co. is teetering on a financial precipice after a quarter-century of failed efforts to find its focus. (AP Photo, File)
Kodak CEO talks company’s future
First Published Sep 03 2013 12:54 pm • Last Updated Sep 03 2013 02:38 pm

ROCHESTER, N.Y. • 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.

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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.


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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.

Under court oversight, Kodak continued to shed costs in the form of businesses, facilities and workers. It shut down its consumer camera business and sold off an online photo service. It spun off its personal and document imaging businesses to its pension plan and sold off many of its patents. It took its name off the theater that hosts the Academy Awards each year. In fact, much of Kodak is gone except for its commercial and packaging printing businesses. The company will emerge with about 8,500 employees, just a fraction of the 145,000 it had at its peak in the 1980s. Revenue is expected to total $2.7 billion this year.

NEW BUSINESSES

Perez said that by slimming down, Kodak is able to focus research and development on businesses the company sees as more profitable.

The restructured company’s operations are split between a trio of businesses: packaging, graphic communications and functional printing. All three are rooted in Kodak’s commercial printing technology.

Kodak scientists created printers, inks and other materials designed to improve resolution, while also increasing the variety of surfaces that can be printed on. In doing so, it has boosted printing speed and lowered costs for customers.

Kodak executives point to the Prosper Press as one of the best examples of its printing technology at work.

Bill Schweinfurth, Kodak’s manager for inkjet components, said publishers have favored offset printing over inkjet for years because of its lower per-page cost and superior image quality. Offset printing uses metal plates to create an image, whereas inkjet printing uses tiny nozzles to spray ink. Offset printing is most cost effective for large printing runs, good for things such as newspapers and popular novels. It’s also considerably faster.

For smaller runs, publishers were forced to use inkjet printers, which had a much higher per-page cost and didn’t offer the same level of quality. Schweinfurth said the Prosper Press, which Kodak launched in 2010, changed all that. It’s inkjet technology that offers cost, quality and speed comparable to offset printing.

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