The rise and fall of Kodak: a short study

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We all know about Kodak. We’ve all used a Kodak camera at one point or another in time. But what few of us realize is that this once profitable and thriving company is now barely struggling to stay afloat. This may come as no surprise for most of us, as there have been no recent sightings of Kodak products in stores, professional magazines or simply in client’s requests. The truth of the matter is that nobody is using this historical brand any more, thus leading the company to stop production altogether. Being in the situation to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the first quarter of 2012, the Kodak group and entire trademark was slowly but surely heading down. At the end of 2013, its managers successfully achieved the unbelievable task of emerging from bankruptcy after having shed a large part of their legacy liabilities and having renounced at several of the brand’s businesses. In 2013, Kodak sold most of its precious patents for the impressive amount of $525,000,000 to a series of well-known companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Adobe Systems, Samsung and HTC.

One question remains: how could a giant like Kodak crumble to the ground after years of being one of America’s best businesses and export brands? How could a company known for its staggering innovation capacities not notice the obvious trends going on in the market? And most importantly of all, why were certain patents not released for the public, only until other competitors in the market came across the same inventions? These are mind boggling issues that have raised the attention of international business communities discussing the topic and even introducing the Kodak case study in professional training courses and university lectures, as a perfect, yet unfortunate, example of worst practices in corporate management. In order to truly understand what this company represented for the American nation and business environment, let us see their fast rise to global domination.

Kodak Retro Camera

The Eastman Kodak company was once the world’s leader in the field of imaging and an exceptional innovator, providing top of the line products and never before seen services to the photographic community, as well as related fields like graphic communications and even less advertised but profitable healthcare markets. Established in the 1880s, by the devoted George Eastman, Kodak grew in a constant and impressive manner so much so that in the 1950s it owned the lion’s share of the market for amateur films in the United States. In 1953, the group launched the Eastman Chemical Products, a subsidiary created to market the plastics, alcohols and fibers it needed for industrial use in film manufacturing and processing. When the U.S. economy reached a recession period in the late ‘70s, the effects were felt and several years of low earnings began, attributed in a large part to the lack or errors in strategic planning. During the 1980s, Kodak was up against fast growing Japanese competitors and suffered a continuous decline in sales and product demand.

Rapid technological breakthroughs, launched mainly by other companies, threatened to annihilate Kodak’s core line of products, which circled around photographic films and matching cameras, with more advanced digital equipment. Although, at the beginning of 1991 the chemical products were still thriving and Kodak’s Health division was in the top 20 pharmaceutical groups of the world, there damage was too significant on the photography departments. With the digital age reaching its peak, Kodak soon lost ground to more advanced competitors and was lost into oblivion. What remains now of the former dominating Kodak brand is simply a collector’s nostalgia for a company that once ruled the world.

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