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George Fisher on progress at Kodak

The following are questions Eastman Kodak Co. employees posed to CEO George Fisher at recent company meetings. The questions and answers, which first appeared in Kodakery, were edited for space.

Q: One of your predecessors compared Kodak to an elephant in its inability to react to market changes. Where are we today in terms of Kodak’s ability to maneuver in the marketplace?
GEORGE FISHER: Financial analysts always ask me the question: “Don’t you think Kodak is too slow to compete in a lot of the worlds (you) have to compete in today?” I categorically say “no,” and I point to all the changes–some very tough ones–that we have gone through in the last 18 months. Whether it is selling $8 billion of businesses, spinning off Eastman Chemical, taking our debt down $7 billion, establishing a whole new performance-based measurement system, setting up six global expectations, or making significant progress on many product fronts.
If you compile all the things that have happened in the company over the last 18 months, I can’t think of a single company in this country that has done that much in that short a period of time.
Yes, we’ll have to move faster. We have to change some processes and re-engineer the way we do things. But I believe there’s nothing fundamentally holding us back from being as fast as any company in the world.
Q: What can we do to think and act more globally?
FISHER: In the late 1800s and early 1900s, George Eastman established operations all around the world. He understood the importance of being global and, as a result, the Kodak name is unbelievably powerful worldwide.
Post-George Eastman, somehow we’ve taken our eye off the developing markets of the world: China, India, Russia and Indonesia. Kodak has a name established in most of those areas, but either the markets closed up on us for political reasons or we didn’t pursue them.
Today, you’ll find our businesses pushing into those markets aggressively. As we are successful, it will begin to avalanche. You’ll see more resources invested. You’ll see people spending more of their time in those markets. You’ll see more of our products tailored to those markets. And you’ll see a lot less of the Rochester-centric thinking in the way we deal with the world.
Success breeds success, and that’s going to happen here.
Q: What is being done to develop leaders from different levels in the company?
FISHER: We have a lot of work to do to train people to be leaders. The culture of Kodak, which was so vertically oriented in structure, didn’t leave a lot of decision-making room for people to be leaders and to take risk. We have to change the environment.
We need an environment in which good leaders can lead, and at the same time we have to help people understand what leadership really is.
Human resources is working with experts from inside and outside the company to bring some very good people up a notch or two to be good leaders.
Q: What can be done to get development more focused on the marketplace?
FISHER: I am pushing very hard to make sure our R&D folks get out to see our customers. I know it can be difficult sometimes for our field folks to accommodate that, but the closer our R&D people can get to our customers and to their customers–often the consumer–the better our new products are going to be.
Q: You have been driving 10x improvement (10-fold improvement) in terms of defect and cycle-time reduction. Are you concerned that units might spend too much time looking for defects and, in the process, lose sight of yield?
FISHER: My view has always been that what is a defect to one operation may not be a defect to another. I don’t want to have a corporate edict that says “this is a defect.” I want groups around the company to decide what their defects are and then drive them to zero.
We set the 10x goals to set people’s expectations on continuous improvement, because many companies fall into the trap of thinking 10 percent a year is doing pretty good. The fact is, that will not keep this company competitive with Fuji. Many companies have figured out how to get 10x improvements over three to five years, and that’s what we have to do.
The best way we can save money in this company is to find out what our defects are, understand the process we use to create our product, and re-engineer those processes to get rid of defects and the wasted time in those processes.
If we focus on cycle time and defects in that simple way, we will significantly reduce our cost of operations.
Q: What are your feelings about the progress on diversity?
FISHER: In 10 years we would like a company whose population reflects our customer base culturally, and in the U.S. in terms of women and minorities. I think that’s good business and I think people in the company generally believe we’re serious about that.
We have now put it in our measurements of the managers. If managers aren’t paying adequate attention to the (diversity) expectation that we put out, it’s going to come back at them through the MPCP (Management Performance Commitment Process) and it will cost them money.
I think in order to make things like that happen, you’ve got to hit people’s pocketbooks. It would be nice to think everybody does things because we’re good people–and I think we are–but it’s a question of priorities and how you keep this issue from slipping off the list of priorities.
Q: Why don’t we do more advertising for our cameras?
FISHER: Most people don’t realize we make millions and millions of standard 35mm cameras, and that we make tens of millions of one-time-use cameras. They don’t realize that because we don’t tell them.
One of the unfortunate facts of life in most companies is that when you are cutting back, sometimes the things you cut back are the things you should least cut back. That unfortunately is true of training and advertising. You do it because they’re easy to cut. We should be doing much more advertising as a company. We would hope–as we get better–to invest even more in advertising.


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