On Kodak

Frequent commenter David Dinoso emailed me earlier this week:

I thought you might have an interesting personal take on the Kodak bankruptcy filing.  I believe you’re from that neck of the woods and if you’re anything like my friends from that area, you probably had at least some relatives who worked for Kodak.  In reading through some of the comments in the Rochester websites, there is a lot of emotional reaction even from residents without a personal stake in the company.

I’ll have a go at it.

When I lived in Rochester, Kodak was everywhere, especially if you include its founder, George Eastman. Whole stretches of geography, whole institutions, and a plurality of workers: it was all about Eastman, Kodak, or both.

Speaking of the company, my Democrat dad spoke favorably that Eastman Kodak Company never needed to be unionized because management treated their employees very well. Christmas came to Kodak employees every Spring when stock dividends were passed on to a significant chunk of Rochesterians who worked there. If I got a (1980’s) Kodak bonus today, I would be able to afford a new stove and refrigerator, plus have a little money left over for a family weekend away.

Imagine the influx of several hundred million dollars into the local economy and you’ll understand that the “job creation” nonsense and “economic stimulus” passing muster today doesn’t replace an honest generosity and gratitude to workers and community.

When I played tournament chess in the 70’s, the two Kodak teams (Research and Engineering) were among the top competitors in the local civic-industrial league.

The comboxes in the Rochester blogs are understandably bitter that Kodak mismanaged itself into catastrophe. I read about thirty comments somewhere, and that was already starting to repeat itself, even though it was only one-tenth of that web page’s postings.

I feel a deep lack of connection to my hometown. It’s a sandals, dust, and shaky thing. I was well-educated there. I met many fine friends. I grew up there. That’s about it.

I worked for my undergrad alma mater, but was passed over for an entry-level position in development, despite being an alum with significant student job experience in three different offices, and almost two years of temping with the telemarketing consultants. Losing a competition is one thing, but when I learned I hadn’t even been seriously considered for the job: that was too much to stomach.

The parish to which I belonged while I was in grad school was considered progressive by some, but you get the sense of the place that it listed its organist as “support staff” with the secretary and custodian. Music was barely a ministry there, by official consideration. One year the entire liturgy committee resigned in disgust. The one job opening in the diocese the year I finished my degree declined to hire anyone rather than hire me (or any of the other possible applicants).

So let’s say I was happy to leave in 1988. And not look back.

Is it a form of social entropy that large groups of people are eventually mismanaged into failure? I’d like to be optimistic that democracy is the solution, be it for a corporation, a community, or even the Church. But even then, I’m not completely sure. On the other hand, at least there’s a degree of accountability. If you can’t jail poor-performing executives, at least you can fire them.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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1 Response to On Kodak

  1. Patti says:

    I think maybe hubris and lack of vision, I’m not sure if that really equates to social entropy. The building that you picture was, by report, largely empty when I temped at Kodak Park in the mid-90’s. With all of their re-orgs and “right-sizing” events they never really got around to understanding how the market was changing and were too large, staid and arrogant to respond to the changes that they did understand.
    As for your situation, it’s often difficult to be an adult in the place your grew up. Rochester can be quite parochial; being a company town made it very much that way. It was good that you spread your wings elsewhere, as sad as it was for those of us you left behind.

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