Kodak moments

In a simpler time, long ago in an America long gone, though still in the vestigial memory of some…

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

In a simpler time, long ago in an America long gone, though still in the vestigial memory of some of us, a “Kodak moment” was a scene memorialized, captured on film.

A “Kodak moment” was the term for those moments worth being photographed, remembered and cherished forever.

That was back in the days of cameras, not phones, where film was the medium and Kodak was king. At one point Kodak owned 90% of the burgeoning photography market.

Taking photos then was expensive and complicated. Film had to be purchased, then developed. Photos were an investment, and there was a time lag – sometimes months or years – between the taking of the picture and the final product, the viewable photo.

Those days are long gone, but Kodak is still with us – sort of. You can see a history of the rise and fall of Kodak here – https://petapixel.com/2018/06/14/a-brief-history-of-kodak-the-camera-giants-rise-and-fall/.

Kodak, the giant of the photography industry dominated the existing market, and pioneered digital photography – and is a textbook case of dominance lost that will be studied for generations.

Kodak certainly does not currently dominate any market – certainly not photography.

In fact, for most of us, especially young people, Kodak was the ultimate legacy company.

And then, in August of 2020, Kodak suddenly emerged as the hottest stock of the stock market.

Kodak was the buzz of conversation, business programs and most of all the stock market.

Kodak’s stock price went from the doldrums – well under five dollars a share, for years – to suddenly shoot up to almost forty dollars, and then to the twenties, then the teens and then under ten, and then slowly oozing its way back down to the single digits.

So now, instead of a “Kodak moment” being a moment to remember and cherish, the term has come to mean a flash investment based on rumor, based on a possibility, itself inspired by a potential and all of it unravelling in real time, with money made by some and lost by many more.

In other words, “Kodak moment” became an event to be memorialized as only 2020 could.

The stock market has always been a center (some say casino) with speculation, hope, fear, panic and greed, in almost portions, at work.

Add politics and you have a volatile mix that again, only 2020 could give us.

If you want to see the source of all the excitement, you could see a summary here – https://www.wsj.com/articles/what-drove-kodaks-roller-coaster-trump-deal-one-determined-white-house-official-11597935982?.

But the story is familiar, it’s not quite a case of insider trading, but it’s pretty close; a long dormant company, with history and potential, get a government contract in a time of national crisis.

The company is revived, jobs are created and an essential service is provided. Private and public good is being served.

It is the ultimate success story. Or at least we wish it was.

Many of us cheered the return of Kodak.

Kodak ruled the world of photography and then had a series of financial mis-steps that will forever be the focus of business school seminars (you can see a summary here – https://hbr.org/2016/07/kodaks-downfall-wasnt-about-technology).

To see Kodak return was both a claim to the future and a tribute to a mythical, if not nostalgic past.

We all, not just investors, had our own reasons for wanting to see Kodak succeed. It was an emblem of an America on the rebound.

With so many vintage American companies from Sears to General Electric to JCPenney and Hertz in financial trouble, Kodak was a sign that return from the near dead was possible.

America is, or at least was, the home of second chances, come-back kids and revival acts; if Kodak could do it, any of us could.

We Americans love these stories of last-minute recoveries and restoration of long-lost powers. You could call us the connoisseurs of make-overs.

One of our most common sports (and business, and relationship) metaphors is “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

The Seahawks, after all, showed us that, no matter how the game looked so far, it was really only the last minute that counted.

Kodak, and Hertz and Sears, and too many more to count, might be down, but they are not necessarily out.

Companies can reconfigure themselves to match and meet the demands of the market.

No company stays on top forever.

As I’ve mentioned, Kodak has been studied for years, but I’m not at all clear what lessons should be drawn from their experience.

Yes, holding on to a tried and true (and profitable) technology can be the best or worst business decision ever.

Transitions, for individuals, governments and businesses, can be difficult. Which way the winds will blow, and market trends will follow is anyone’s guess.

We love our corporate giants, from IBM to General Motors, and we love their challengers, maybe even more. Without challengers like Apple and Tesla, the corporate landscape looks pretty monochrome, but even they will not prevail forever.

We love David and Goliath stories, but every “David” becomes a “Goliath” and becomes the target of the next innovation, entrepreneur or generation.

It’s one of the oldest stories of history – and business.

We might have essentially the same story to tell of Apple, Google, Facebook or Amazon a few years from now.

After all, what do any one of them offer that some upstart company in someone’s basement couldn’t do better?

So what of Kodak?

Unlike most of its competitors, and even some of its challengers, Kodak is still around.

I never use Kodak products, but I’m glad they’re still around.

I invested in Kodak stock at about the fifteen dollar mark. Whether the stock goes up or down, I don’t really care. I’m just glad to be part of business history. Kodak’s story, our story, keeps going, and plot twists and surprise ending are our favorite parts of the story.

Don’t give up on Kodak – or anyone else.

Time will tell if Kodak or Google, Facebook or Amazon will be around in a few years, after all,

“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

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