US camera pioneer Kodak files for bankruptcy

  • Technology
  • Friday, 20 Jan 2012

NEW YORK: The century-old US camera pioneer Eastman Kodak, which brought photography to the masses, filed for bankruptcy early Thursday after years of failing to keep pace with the digital age.

“The Board of Directors and the entire senior management team unanimously believe that this is a necessary step and the right thing to do for the future of Kodak,” chief executive officer Antonio Perez said in a statement.

“Our goal is to maximise value for stakeholders, including our employees, retirees, creditors, and pension trustees. We are also committed to working with our valued customers,” he added.

The company said it had sufficient liquidity to continue operating normally and paying employees during the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process. Its foreign subsidiaries were not subject to the proceedings, it added.

The Rochester, New York-based company, which dates back to 1880s, led the way in popularising the cameras, slide projectors and home videos that preserved the memories of generations of users.

But it has struggled in the age of digital cameras, and years of poor performance had already forced it to lay off 47,000 employees and close 13 manufacturing plants and some 130 processing labs since 2003.

“Now we must complete the transformation by further addressing our cost structure and effectively monetiaing non-core IP (intellectual property) assets,” Perez said.

“We look forward to working with our stakeholders to emerge a lean, world-class, digital imaging and materials science company.”

The bankruptcy filing places the jobs of Kodak’s 19,000 remaining employees in question. At its height in the 1980s, it had 145,000 workers.

Earlier this month the New York Stock Exchange told Kodak — once one of the fabled 30 Dow Jones blue chips — that it faced delisting from the exchange if it could not get its stock price back above US$1.00 (RM3.10) per share.

It was dropped from the prestigious Dow Jones Industrial Average of 30 top US companies in 2004.

In its heyday Kodak shares topped US$80 (RM247) in 1996 — just at the outset of the digital photo revolution that eventually freed consumers from the need to buy Kodak film, once a virtual monopoly in the US market.

Kodak’s books have been awash with red ink for years. The last time it reported a net profit was a small gain in 2007.

Officially established by inventor George Eastman in 1892, Kodak developed handheld “Brownie” cameras that were sold at popular prices and furnished the film that would keep consumers pumping profits into the company for decades.

Three generations of Americans and many in other countries learned to snap their own pictures with Brownies, at a time when the company was lauded as one of the top US innovators — the Apple or Google of its time.

And Kodak Moment — the company’s advertising catchphrase for its film — has been embedded deep in the US vernacular.

NASA lunar orbiters in the 1960s brought back some of the earliest images of the moon’s surface on Kodak film, and the first astronauts to walk on the moon documented their historic expedition with a shoe box-sized Kodak camera.

Kodak also furnished the film for countless Hollywood movies, including 80 Oscar-winning Best Pictures, according to the firm’s website, which said it had won nine Academy Awards of its own for scientific and technical excellence.

The company pioneered research into digital photography beginning in the mid-1970s. But it was Asian manufacturers that stole a march in that market in the 1990s as Kodak failed to see the need to break from its old business lines.

In September Kodak hired the law firm Jones Day as advisors for restructuring, though many analysts noted at the time that the firm also advises bankruptcies.

During Perez’s six-year tenure as CEO the former senior Hewlett Packard executive had sought to shore up Kodak’s finances by selling off some of its huge portfolio of patents and developing its printer line.

The current plan calls for restructuring the company with the aid of a US$950 (RM2.94bil) million credit facility from Citigroup in order to emerge in a more competitive position at some point in 2013. — AFP/Relaxnews 2011

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