Kodak CEO talks company’s future
Meanwhile, Kodak wants to use the same technology to eventually create smart packaging, which could include sensors that, for instance, tell consumers if a bag of food had been out of the refrigerator too long.
Todd Watkins, who worked for Kodak in the 1980s and now serves as an economics professor at Lehigh University, said that for the new Kodak to survive, it will need to find a way to stand out in a fiercely competitive market where companies such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and Xerox Corp. are already entrenched and struggling with problems of their own.
Even as some of Kodak’s technology, like the new touch screens, has potential, Watkins said, it remains to be seen whether the company can transfer that into profits.
"It’s cool, absolutely, but is it a business? That’s the question," Watkins said.
Ari Zoldan, CEO of Quantum Networks Inc. and a technology analyst and entrepreneur, was more skeptical about Kodak’s ability to compete in commercial printing.
He said that while Kodak symbolized the gold standard in the printing industry for many years, it failed to evolve with the times. He said its competitors now have too strong of a hold on the market. But he said Kodak’s research and development capabilities are very strong, so the company could succeed if it can quickly focus itself on just a few niche areas.
"Can they hang their hat on these technologies?" Zoldan asked. "It’s a long shot. By no stretch of the imagination is it a slam dunk."
Perez said he’s confident that Kodak’s post-bankruptcy balance sheet, combined with its new focus and technologies, will set the company up for financial success in the years to come.
As for region’s future, Sandra Parker, president and CEO of the Rochester Business Alliance, said that the city is no longer dependent on Kodak. In the years since the company began cutting jobs, Rochester’s workforce has diversified.
Kodak now employs about 3,500 workers in the Rochester area, just a fraction of 60,000 it had in its heyday of the 1980s. The University of Rochester has replaced Kodak as the area’s top employer, Parker said. The Business Alliance’s top priority is finding a way to fill Kodak’s massive Eastman Business Park. While Kodak still does some manufacturing there, it’s also opened the space up to other companies and is now about two-thirds full with more than 40 tenants.
Meanwhile, Perez is preparing to step down. He’ll give up the CEO job sometime in the next year once a replacement is found. He plans to remain as an adviser.
In recent years, Perez has faced considerable criticism for Kodak’s decline in value and lost jobs. But he brushed it off saying, "I have a very high threshold for the opinions of the uniformed."
Perez said the time is right for him to leave the company. He remains proud of how Kodak has continued to innovate, despite its financial hardships, he said.
"I love this company. I Iove what we have done," Perez said. "But now it’s time."