Why interrupt a comfortable retirement for the uncertain challenges of a company that recently emerged from a Chapter 11 bankruptcy? “There are several reasons,” explains John McMullen ’81, who has been CFO of Eastman Kodak for 15 months. “First, I’d already had considerable success working alongside Kodak’s new CEO, Jeff Clarke. It was Jeff who recruited me.”
A former Isenberg finance major with a concentration in accounting, McMullen visited Isenberg on September 10th, lecturing in finance classes and meeting with Ph.D. students. McMullen’s entire career has been in tech firms, first at Digital Equipment Corporation, then at Compaq Computer, and Hewlett-Packard.
“I was also attracted by Kodak’s iconic brand and history and wanted to be a part of the next chapter in its story,” McMullen continues. “Everybody knows the brand and there’s unbelievable support in Rochester for its resurgence. At age 55, I discovered that I just wasn’t ready to stop working. At the end of the day, you need to stay active and keep your brain alive and sharp. I wanted to stay in the fire of what was going on.”
That, of course, is a world apart from Kodak’s market dominance during its glory days. For decades, the company ruled supreme in the consumer film market. Its $2 billion in sales last year pales with its $19 billion in revenues during its heyday in 1990.
A Technology Culture Moves Forward
From the beginning, Kodak’s culture has emphasized technological innovation. Ironically, it was almost done in by one of its own disruptive innovations—digital photography—which it adapted for professional cameras in the 1990s. It dragged its feet, however, in securing that technology in its consumer markets. That jump-started the company’s downward spiral.
“But our fundamental technologies haven’t gone away. Our capabilities in materials sciences, imaging sciences, and deposition technologies still give us an edge in commercial printing markets, including graphics offset printing and printing for packaging,” observes the Isenberg graduate. The latter, he notes, is profitable and now captures approximately 10% of that market.
Kodak’s technological prowess is grounded in a long-standing research culture, which includes an in-house cadre of chemists, engineers, and materials scientists and over 6,500 commercial patents. McMullen is working with Kodak’s chief technology developer to leverage the company’s robust capabilities with its technology partners and customers. “It’s all quite exciting,” he confesses.
As the company’s CFO, McMullen has a great deal more on his plate. He must control and further rationalize Kodak’s costs. And he is responsible for its corporate development, procurement, and real estate portfolio, including its storied business park.
“For me, helping innovative companies like Kodak bring technologies to market is both exciting and fun,” remarks McMullen. “And I’m grateful to Isenberg, where I got a terrific education from quality professors. Without question, Isenberg is a place where you can develop a competitive toolkit of skills.”