On January 19, 2012 Eastman Kodak declared bankruptcy because its executives lost their way, drowned by their greed to stick with the profitability of film when the digital revolution was calling. Just when they needed another George Eastman, who transformed the world with his KODAK concept by mainstreaming photography, the KODAK leadership got lost in the past and were unclear how to transform the company. In the process, they dumped Eastman’s various commitments to his employees, and his path-blazing efforts with innovative compensation and health practices. Before we forget about KODAK, let us remember George Eastman’s commitment to social entrepreneurship by making the world better with his corporate success.
George Eastman had a good idea and networked effectively. In 1888 he launched KODAK with over $1 million of venture capital. People believed in this young man, with his inventive thinking and practical know-how. The KODAK name and logo became recognized around the world symbolizing quality, reliability, innovation. With ads that reinforced the ease of using cameras and of capturing special events and scenes, he turned KODAK into an understood adjective — shoot that KODAK moment or even signs on tour would appear promoting “KODAK picture spot.”
Yet, many forget Eastman’s pioneering business efforts such as:
–Creative compensation. In the first year, he paid his workers an employee dividend out of his own pocket because he was determined to motivate his employees by introducing the concept of an invested workforce.
– Thereafter, he institutionalized a Kodak bonus program, becoming an innovator of employee compensation designed to share the company’s success.
–Shared Healthcare He deeply cared about healthcare and under Marion Folsom, Kodak pioneered life insurance, retirement & disability employee programs within the company and advocated for them as public policy.
-Eastman built free dental clinics around the world where Kodak had factories (Rochester, London, Paris, Stockholm, Brussels, Rome)
Perhaps, most significant of all, he led the way for community-based healthcare enabling Rochester, NY to become a national healthcare leader. In 1991, because of Kodak’s leadership, health insurance cost 33% less per Rochester employee than in the nation and 45% lower than in NY State.
George Eastman redefined our way of doing business, sharing profits and providing visionary healthcare to local communities. Perhaps other business leaders could learn from his priorities.