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What would George Eastman think?
Eastman Kodak Co.'s Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the early hours of Jan. 19 no doubt would have saddened him greatly, as it did many people in Rochester and around the globe.
But would it have surprised him? Little chance of that.
As founder of the company that revolutionized photography and made Rochester home to one of the world's iconic brands, Eastman knew success as relatively few others have. But he also suffered numerous setbacks and no doubt understood the constant proximity of failure.
Fires and accidents, product flaws and patent battles-those were only some of the troubles his growing business endured. As Eastman biographer Elizabeth Brayer noted in a 2004 interview with this newspaper, as we marked the 150th anniversary of his birth, the story of Kodak's founder was one of "dogged determination in the face of one catastrophe after the other."
Kodak's leaders and employees will need some of that dogged determination-not to mention vision and luck-if the company is to emerge from Chapter 11 reorganization intact and with a promising future.
Eastman was a business genius, but he was wise in other ways too. Perhaps because he understood how difficult it is for a company to last a long time, he gave a considerable portion of his wealth to the Rochester community, fostering the development of its leading educational and cultural institutions.
Today, one of the major beneficiaries of his philanthropy-the University of Rochester-is the region's leading employer and at the forefront of its emerging knowledge-based economy. Similarly, Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre and the Eastman School of Music are big parts of the quality of life that draws many people to this community-and keeps them here even when other regions seem to offer more job opportunities.
It is a lesson that business owners-no matter the size of their enterprise-should heed: Charity is not the only reason to give back.
Rochester does not need another George Eastman or another Kodak to ensure that it thrives in the future. This is what we need: a great many entrepreneurs and business owners who embrace the example of Kodak's founder.
1/27/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.