The photography pioneer emerged this week from bankruptcy to pursue profitability in the tech sector, with a primary focus on imaging for business. Kodak's mission now is to leverage its well-known brand-name, its growing portfolio of B2B products, and its extensive R&D experience.
Over its 130-year history, the iconic company name became so synonymous with photography that "a Kodak moment" is still another way of saying an experience is camera-worthy. But business and profitability took a turn for the worse when digital cameras began to replace traditional film and cameras.
Although Kodak produced the first digital camera, the industry shift to digital imagery took a toll, leaving the company financially challenged over the past two decades, and eventually leading Kodak to file a $6.75 billion bankruptcy in January 2012.
On Tuesday, the bankruptcy was finally lifted, as a bankruptcy court in New York approved Kodak's plan for its new life. Judge Allan Gropper said in a statement that "it will be enormously valuable for the company to get out of Chapter 11 and hopefully begin to regain its position in the pantheon of American business."
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"We have emerged as a technology company serving imaging for business markets -- including packaging, functional printing, graphic communications and professional services," said Kodak CEO Antonio Perez in a statement. "We have been revitalized by our transformation and restructured to become a formidable competitor -- leaner, with a strong capital structure, a healthy balance sheet, and the industry's best technology."
The Kodak CEO told The Wall Street Journal he is "very, very happy today," again citing the company's "great capital structure" and balance sheet.
With its key focus now on high-speed digital printing technology and packaging for consumer goods, Kodak is expected to have revenues of about $2.5 billion. While that's only about half of what it had before it entered Chapter 11, analysts agree the outlook is optimistic.
Over the course of the 20-month bankruptcy proceedings, Kodak sold off many patents to fellow industry titans including Apple, Amazon, BlackBerry, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung. Unfortunately, the financial yield was substantially lower than expected. Kodak was looking for more than $2 billion for its 1,100 digital imaging patents, but was only able to generate about $525 million.
In the end, the restructuring plan worked out a pension dispute with company retirees, but wiped out its shareholders. Secured creditors and second-lien noteholders are expected be paid in full, although general unsecured creditors are only expected to receive four or five cents on the dollar.
Last spring, a pension dispute with Kodak workers in the United Kingdom was resolved with the company's imaging and document imaging business being assigned to the pension fund.
We spoke with Laura DiDio, an analyst with industry research firm Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, about Kodak's plans for the future. DiDio confirmed that one of Kodak's biggest remaining assets "is its very well recognized and established brand, which was so well known for so long."
While the Kodak brand was synonymous with film for consumer and professional use, DiDio suggests that the company could still derive enormous value if it can successfully attach the name to its current product and services. After all, she points out, the brand is about 130 years old.
DiDio said that with Kodak's new focus on commercial printing and digital imaging, it is looking to build on its former experience and research into coatings that preserve various material. In the past, the research focused on coatings that would extend the life for rolls of film and prints. Now, that knowledge and experience are being applied for digital imaging, and in the future, it could apply to a potentially wide range of products.
Kodak already has contracts with Kingsbury Corp. and Uni-Pixel to manufacture sheets of touch sensors for consumer devices. It is also developing alternatives for use in the hyper-clean manufacturing environments required for semiconductor production, with advances being made in spatial atomic layer deposition. That type of process involves the precise depositing of thin coatings onto substrates or backings.
Kodak also points to its other leading solutions for today's business customers, which include digital presses that can print a 260-page novel in 2.25 seconds; flexographic systems that make packaging more vibrant and eye-catching for shoppers; continuous manufacturing processes to mass-produce touch screen sensors; devices that image more than 30% of digital plates used for offset printing worldwide; and, printing plates that reduce environmental impact by eliminating use of chemistry and processing.
Even after selling off many of its patents, Kodak says it still has an impressive portfolio of intellectual property with more than 7,500 active commercial imaging patents. The company says these assets will provide the basis for partnerships with other innovators and can help create new markets and disrupt existing markets with new solutions.