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More than half of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll say they are not confident that Eastman Kodak Co.’s new CEO can lead the company to consistent profitable growth.
Jeffrey Clarke became Kodak’s top executive last week, replacing Antonio Perez. Before taking the Kodak job, Clarke was a managing partner of Augusta Columbia Capital, a technology-focused private investment firm he co-founded in 2012. He previously served as chairman and CEO of Travelport Inc., as chief operating officer of technology firm CA Inc. and as an executive vice president at Hewlett Packard Co.
Clarke, an Upstate New York native, said last week that Kodak—which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September—has “great prospects.” He pointed to the company’s proprietary technology in commercial printing, packaging and functional printing and said Kodak has dealt with most of its legacy problems.
Perez, who now is special adviser to the Kodak board, joined the company in 2003 and became CEO in 2005. That year, Kodak posted a $1.3 billion loss on $14.3 billion in revenues. It had more than 50,000 employees companywide, with 14,100 in the Rochester area. It emerged from bankruptcy with fewer than 3,000 employees in Rochester and 8,500 worldwide, with projected annual revenues of some $2.5 billion.
Nearly four in five respondents gave Perez poor marks for his overall performance as Kodak CEO. Sixteen percent graded him as fair, 4 percent as good and 1 percent as excellent.
Looking farther ahead, 80 percent of respondents said it’s likely that Kodak’s headquarters no longer will be in Rochester five years from now.
Roughly 425 readers participated in this week’s poll, conducted March 17 and 18.
How confident are you that Jeffrey Clarke can lead Eastman Kodak Co. to consistent profitable growth?
Very confident: 7%
Somewhat confident: 37%
Not very confident: 39%
Not at all confident: 17%
How would you rate Antonio Perez’s overall performance during his tenure as Kodak CEO?
This company had been mismanaged and, sorry to say, doomed for collapse since its senior leadership ignored lower-level employee input. The result has been the ruin of one of the most successful companies ever. I am sickened by watching it go down, destroying the lives and futures of many folks. Mr. Eastman and subsequent CEOs until the (Daniel) Carp and (George) Fisher reigns are terribly saddened, I’m sure. You have heard this view many times before, but just had to say my piece. Thank you for the space to do so in public.
—Theodore J. Voll Jr.
I understand Clarke is not moving to Rochester. He is living 3,000 miles away in San Francisco. Is this true? Can you be effective from across the country? How serious is he?
I knew Jeff as a fellow fraternity brother at Geneseo State and haven’t kept in touch; however, I remember him as being a very driven individual and true leader who helped distinguish our organization as one of the best fraternities on campus in the 1980s. After leaving Geneseo to pursue his own career path, it is no surprise that I can see how Jeff has had success in all that he set out to accomplish. Congratulations, Jeff, and I know Kodak and Rochester will benefit from your leadership!
—Pete Deckman, president, Deckman Oil Co.
Jeffrey Clark is what Kodak has needed for 25 years: someone who’s young, has a handle on the world of technology and won’t bury his head and hope technology doesn’t outpace the company before trying to revive it.
—Rich Calabrese Jr., Rochester
How disappointing Clarke will be managing from afar. The company needs face-to-face leadership that only comes with presence. Jeff’s decision to remain on the West Coast means (a) he won’t have a constant visible presence, (b) employees won’t see him periodically, and (c) the company will spend $200,000 or more on coast-to-coast executive travel (private jet) and temporary (deluxe) housing. George Eastman and most of his successors had the presence of mind to realize their presence was essential to the company and greatly beneficial to the community.
—Dave Kline, Webster
Well, another empty suit is about ready be the CEO, Jeffrey Clarke. If you can believe our local paper, he is going to run the company from San Francisco; what a novel idea. I was surprised George Fisher didn’t do that, being his wife couldn’t stand Rochester. With all the problems on State Street, he can run the company from 3,000 miles away. Kodak has had so many train wrecks as CEO, I think it is time that the real train wreck of management should be looked at: the board of directors. A year trying to find a CEO, and they pick a person with so few skills. Yes, he has headed up companies—many companies, two years at a time. From Fallon to this train wreck, the board has been making these selections one failure after another. Well, Kodak board, pat yourselves on the back. Another failure will take the controls, and maybe this time this failure could be the last and then you won’t need to come to Rochester, either. This is so sad, and especially to the many hard workers who trusted Kodak would do the right thing. This could be the last empty suit to rob the company blind.
—Ken Pamatat, Creative Images
Residency in the headquarters’ city should have been a stipulation of the office. Not living here in Rochester signals doubt on Clarke’s part. If you’re in, you’ve got to be in 100 percent.
Let me be polite: Lack of leadership and overweight product development cycles put Kodak in its current position. The only notable change today is a California-based CEO with a limited portfolio of actual long-term leadership. Say goodbye to an old ROC icon.
—Wayne Donner, Rush
It’s hard to believe that the Antonio Perez reign of terror has finally come to an end. Almost. They must be keeping him on as a special adviser to help the new CEO learn how to mismanage cash and alienate the employees and community. Kodak is ripe for a takeover because of its vast portfolio of intellectual property. Perez has made sure that there are no deep ties to this area, making the business much more portable.
I worked 15 years at Case-Hoyt, a commercial printer who closed shop around 10 years ago. I’ve also been a recruiter for 17 years, the first 12 or so as a specialty recruiter in the graphic arts field. Times have changed. Commercial printing is a dying art. All you have to do is look at the decline of newspapers, catalogs, phone books, magazine subscriptions, etc., to see how times have changed. Those 35 years old and younger rarely if ever look at any of these. Meanwhile, digital printing is already seeing a decline, thanks to multimedia. It’s unfortunate that Kodak either didn’t see this shift or sold their souls long ago and held on to the notion that film was going to be here forever. They have sold off any profitable division they ever had, including digital, Eastman Chemical, Johnson & Johnson, Carestream, ITT, their battery, copier and vitamin divisions, etc. They have been on a path of self-destruction for years and, in my opinion, a path of no return.
—Steve Neelin, CEO, Quality Recruiting
Any corporate executive, i.e., Jeff Clarke, who dismisses the need and responsibility to locate to the base of its headquarters is unfortunately guided by a short-term and transparent agenda: find a Silicon Valley buyer and move on, as he’s done for most of his “illustrious” career.
—Bruno Sniders, Webster
The only way Clarke will be successful is if he is able to lead unencumbered by the ghosts of philosophies past. Hard to do when the former CEO is a “special adviser” to the board. What if he makes a decision that Perez disagrees with (I submit, a likely scenario)? Will Perez be the ghost in the board machine who ultimately undermines Clarke’s authority and leadership? If we believe in him, let him lead the company. I suspect the only way to long-term sustainability will involve some decisions that will make some of the current leadership uncomfortable.
—Jim Garnham, Penfield
I hope the intention is to grow Kodak, especially in Rochester. So much work and expertise is still here along with several world-class universities. Would be crushing to see Kodak relocate.
I think Jeffrey Clarke stands a good chance of taking a vastly reorganized and downsized company in the right direction in the near future (i.e., next five years). He comes here with a strong resume and, maybe more importantly, no baggage, which was not the case for Antonio Perez. Headquarters remaining here? I’m not so certain. Of course I would like the headquarters to stay in Monroe County, but the new Kodak leadership will be making a business decision, not a feel-good decision. I hope the new Kodak does well both for the company and the community.
You don’t have to be around many venture (vulture) capitalists for very long or do more than one business plan to hear the term “exit strategy.” Much is made of Jeffrey Clarke being a graduate of SUNY Geneseo, but he hasn’t stayed in the area. He now lives in San Francisco. I haven’t heard any plans for him to move back to the Rochester area. It would have been nice for his first talk to his Kodak employees to have been in person and not on tape. My thought is that Mr. Clarke will build Kodak up as best he can, then offer up Kodak to be acquired and have Kodak moved out of Rochester, without his ever moving here.
—Clifford Jacobson M.D., Vanguard Psychiatric Services P.C.
To question No. 1 about leading Kodak to consistent profitable growth: The consistent part is the real question. With a few key moves, the honeymoon for stockholders will be good at least temporarily. Mr. Clarke could use that cushion to develop his team and formulate a strategy for the future that he will own. The question is too open-ended, consistent profitable growth has many meanings. I just hope that Mr. Clarke's version is different from Mr. Perez's version. Question No. 2 about Perez's performance: I don't know if I could be descriptive enough with words to convey my disgust with the state of affairs from pollution legacy, retiree benefits, bankruptcy, stock depletion, misguided floundering company direction, selling off of assets, demolition of infrastructure and a host of bush league decisions this man has made at the helm of what was a "world class" organization. All while raking in millions of dollars in compensation. My rating would be the lowest allowable. That goes for the board of directors, as well. While the transition is taking place … Question No. 3 about Kodak headquarters still in Rochester 5 years from now: Think tax burden. Think cost of employment in New York State. Think social programs. Think corporate rules and regulations in NYS. Then think about the task Clarke has to accomplish. In politics, it would be like getting elected as the next president and having to clean up Obama's mess! The first step on the road to corporate financial health would be to reduce operating costs without sacrificing performance. Without tax breaks and the local, and state government relaxing the burden exerted on business in New York State, to consider relocating should be amongst the top of the list. The answer to the question resides in politicians reviewing this scenario. Do we want to lose the 5,000 or 6,000 Kodak employees (from almost 70,000) that are still in Rochester, or do we want to support Kodak and help to grow that 5,000 or 6,000-person company into something much larger? These are good-paying jobs with good benefits from a company that had very strong and deep community ties. Shame on all involved for letting the situation get to the point it is now, and for potentially letting Kodak slip away. I wonder what Gov. Cuomo would say to your Snap Poll and how he would or wouldn't pledge to support Kodak's revitalized efforts to pursue world class greatness again. Perhaps all Kodak has to do is relocate to a SUNY campus? I digress. Godspeed, Mr. Clarke. While your task is formidable, the satisfaction that comes with success will be even greater. In times of contemplation, there are many positives to dwell on with regard to the Eastman Kodak Co., its founder, his philanthropy, the imaging industry, and the relationship to the citizens of Rochester. Channel the greatness from the early days and project it into the future for all our sake.
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