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Return to the future

When Eastman Kodak Co. emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection three years ago, it was greeted by a crowd of skeptics. Yes, the iconic company had proved the obituary writers wrong, but how long could it truly last?

These days, you don’t read much about Kodak in the national media—and if you do, the references might be in the past tense. Or as with a recent Harvard Business Review article, the focus is how to avoid making the mistakes that brought it down.

Yet Kodak is still here. And quietly, its leaders and employees are working to build a future for the company.

Former Chairman and CEO Antonio Perez once expressed to this newspaper his “complete faith” that Kodak would experience “the best turnaround in the industry that I’ve ever heard of.” Instead, Mr. Perez was forced to turn to bankruptcy court.

His successor, Jeffrey Clarke, has not produced any miracles either. But this summer, he did deliver something Kodak had not seen in a long while: a quarterly profit.

While revenues declined again, the company generated both income from continuing operations and net earnings. And in the first half of the year, cash used in operations improved by $74 million compared with the same period in 2015.

Underscoring its forward focus, Kodak in June rolled out roughly two dozen new products and technologies at drupa 2016, the huge quadrennial trade show held in Germany for the global printing industry.

To be sure, there are no guarantees attached to any of this. Nor can we forget the importance downsizing continues to play at the company. Since the start of 2014, its total headcount has fallen by nearly one-third. In Rochester, its staff has been reduced by half since 2013 to around 1,750.

As new Chief Financial Officer David Bullwinkle noted in Kodak’s second-quarter investor call, those cuts are the “key driver” of the cost improvements behind its return to profitability.

Kodak is not the company it once was—those days are gone. But anyone who says it’s a company with no future has not been paying attention.

9/9/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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