Kodak files for bankruptcy

2012-01-19 09:13

US camera pioneer Eastman Kodak, which brought photography to the masses over a century ago, filed for bankruptcy today.

“After considering the advantages of chapter 11 at this time, 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,” CEO Antonio Perez said in a statement, referring to US bankruptcy proceedings.

“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, which dates back more than a hundred years, was a pioneer in popularising photography.

But it has been struggling to keep pace with the digital age, and years of poor performance had already forced it to lay off 47 000 employees and close 13 manufacturing plants since 2003.

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

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

In its heyday Kodak shares topped $80 in 1996 – just at the outset of the digital photo revolution that eventually replaced the need for consumers to buy Kodak film, once a virtual monopoly in the US market.

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.

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.

Founded in 1892 by inventor George Eastman, Kodak developed hand-held “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 photos with Brownies.

And “Kodak Moment”, the company’s advertising catch phrase for its film, was embedded deep into the vernacular.

The company, meanwhile, was lauded as one of the country’s top technology innovators – the Apple or Google of its time.

Ironically, it 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.

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