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Kodak Snapshots

May 29, 2000
Related Topics: The HR Profession, Managing International Operations, Diversity, Featured Article
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Thursday, May 11, 2000. 9:50 a.m.

Think film, and the first thought that comes to mind is Kodak and their ubiquitous yellow film boxes. It's been 100 years since George Eastman introduced the Brownie camera to the American public, and since then the company has dominated the consumer picture-taking market. In the last century, Eastman Kodak has branched out, developing strong professional and industrial markets for its imaging products, which now include everything from X-rays and microfilm to satellite photography and large-format film for the motion-picture industry. But it is those 4 x 5 snapshots taken by ordinary people to record important family events from birthdays and anniversaries to graduations and the first prom dress that remain the core of Kodak's thriving $14 billion business.

Last year Eastman Kodak, based in Rochester, New York, sold close to three billion rolls of film, representing about 80 billion exposures, and almost 100 million more rolls of film in the United States alone than the year before. Innovation has always driven this company, founded in 1880, and Kodak saw sales of its new easy-to-use Max film grow by 40 percent last year and its flexible Advantix Photo System gain momentum.

As we move forward into the digital age, Kodak is uniquely poised to further expand its ownership of the imaging industry by helping consumers and commercial customers alike take advantage of computerized formats for displaying pictures. The company's strong technical and engineering skills can provide the continued invention and follow-through that the fast-paced world of the Internet demands.

Key to Kodak's continued profitable performance as its traditional businesses grow and its new e-commerce sectors evolve is its worldwide operation. Five years ago, Kodak turned its attention to its offshore operations and began an integration process in an effort to globalize its business practices on a market basis rather than a geographic basis.

That's where Marty Britt comes in. As director of Worldwide Human Resources for Kodak's consumer imaging division, Britt, 41, is in charge of managing a worldwide strategy for attracting and retaining top talent here and abroad. Working under her are the HR directors of Kodak's five geographic regions and four office staff, in a department that is a shared resource for the company's 89,650 employees, 43,000 of whom are in the United States.

Until 1995, its European, South American, and Pacific Rim business units operated as independent entities. The corporate office had trouble coming up with numbers as basic as how many people work for the company worldwide, especially when they were asked to break down numbers into categories such as full- and part-time, race, and gender, Britt explains.

Today Kodak is putting an emphasis on consistency and continuity to make sure that everyone is working toward the same goals, Britt says. At the same time, the company is moving from a culture of producing what it could invent to inventing products that consumers are demanding.

Like many others at Kodak, Britt grew up in Rochester and is the second generation in her family to work there. However, she never expected to follow in her father's footsteps when she graduated from Cornell with a master's degree in industrial and human relations. After a short stint in Florida, her hometown beckoned, though, and she took an entry-level human resources position at Kodak in 1985. Since then, she has worked her way up through the ranks, proving to be an intense, high-energy strategist who can make you laugh while giving you serious, on-target advice.

When I catch up with Britt on this gorgeous spring morning, she is already three hours into her workday. Surrounding her is a bevy of stuffed animals, photos of her dogs, and a vase of congratulatory fresh flowers, a reminder that she is only four weeks into her current position. In her last job, she served as director of corporate human resources.

On her agenda this morning is a meeting with senior managers in the research and development division to discuss an attrition problem. "We've lost three key people to other Kodak divisions, so what we're concerned with here is trying to figure out if they left for another great opportunity or whether they just wanted to get away from something we need to fix," she says.

At the meeting are Jack Wylam, senior human resources manager for the research and development division; Jim Patton, the chief technology officer; and Patton's boss, Bill Atkinson, the director of output system development. Patton lays out the problem, quickly pointing out that the three women who left went to Kodak's fast-growing Internet division, Kodak.com. "The question I have is whether we have created our own chaos here. Have we created a company but then failed to give them the tools to find their own talent other than stealing them from other divisions?" he asks.

Britt immediately jumps in and suggests that an analysis of career paths and the division's own talent pool is in order. "I view this problem as a potentially positive move. What kind of talent do we have to backfill these positions? What are we doing to bring in new talent?"

Wylam agrees that managers at all levels need to realize that old-line companies such as Kodak can no longer expect to control their workers' employment tracks. "It used to be that workers waited for their managers to hand out the promotions," he says. "Now we are seeing employees take charge of their careers, find their own opportunities."

Britt reinforces Wylam's point, noting that Kodak always attracted top talent right out of college because Rochester was a great place to develop a career and raise a family. "What distinguished Kodak as a place to work was that people came here because they knew they could have a great career without moving."

But since Kodak was forced to disrupt its own history of lifetime employment in the early 1990s with workforce cutbacks, the concept of loyalty has fallen out of the employment lexicon, Britt says.

Today, few Kodak workers are under 30, and many are nearing retirement. Nonetheless, Kodak has retained its reputation as an innovator and inventor.

Given the worldwide demand for talent, human resources managers have had to replace the old laid-back recruitment system by going on the offensive and making sure Kodak is the kind of place that astute, qualified workers will choose. "That means addressing everything from work schedules and dress codes to the basic element of respect for employees," Britt notes, adding that Kodak currently has 600 to 700 open jobs in the U.S. alone.

10:35 a.m.

The issue of respect for employees comes up again when Britt meets one-on-one with Cindy High, her manager of human resources for worldwide information systems. Britt serves as High's mentor, checking in with her from time to time and guiding her as she works with this key sector of Kodak's workforce.

High knows she is in a war for talent and is working on a project to diversify her workforce. At Kodak, thanks largely to Britt's personal vision, diversity goes far beyond racial and gender profiles.

"Diversity is recognizing each one of us as an individual and drawing on these unique talents and skills," Britt says. "We have to find out what makes each employee unique because unless we do, we won't get the value of their individual talents and experience."

Diversity is important when it comes to inventing products, Britt notes, because of the cause-and-effect relationship between what is produced and what is purchased. "Women make up 70 percent of all consumer imaging purchases, which suggests that we need to make sure women are well represented around the table here when we are brainstorming those products," she says.

Britt suggests that High involve Kodak's own workforce in her executive-level recruitment efforts. She also recommends that High meet with the African American Leadership Team, Kodak Leaders Who Are Women, and the Hispanic Leadership Team and ask for their help in finding more talent among their own contacts. "This is the kind of outreach that makes everyone feel involved."

She also encourages High to publicize her successes. "Don't underestimate the value of telling stories, what exactly you are doing to attract top talent," Britt says, pointing out that a manager in a key position in Singapore was offered special travel and vacation allowances so she could spend time with her husband and child. "The stories are what people remember."

Britt excuses herself for a private meeting, sending me off to lunch with Greg Giles, her senior human resource manager for consumer imaging.

1:00 p.m.

Salad in hand, Britt is back in her office to meet with Paula Dolan, the company's director of worldwide compensation. Dolan has come by because she needs something from Britt, specifically her comments on a new stock ownership plan being offered as performance-based compensation for exempt, non-management employees.

Britt notes that this type of bonus system is relatively new at Kodak and is part of an effort to align Kodak with high-flying "Silicon Valley dot-coms." Although Britt protests that her recommendations are not as complete as she would like, given her newness in the job, Dolan is delighted with her effort, pointing out that several veterans haven't yet gotten the hang of this reward program.

2:00 p.m.

After taking a few minutes to listen to her voice mails that have accumulated during the morning, Britt is off to a roundtable discussion with eight members of her human resource staff. They have signed up to talk about their jobs and to hear about company initiatives. Because Britt is new in the position, the man whom she replaced, Bob Berman, joins her as a co-facilitator. Berman, now the human resources director for global operations, brings with him that broader perspective. Also present are two members of the human resources education team, two secretaries, and four human resources managers.

Berman begins the session by tackling the prickly topic of employee advocacy on the part of human resource managers. He argues that HR staff can serve as important intermediaries, bringing employee concerns to top management. They also can intercede before a problem becomes a crisis.

The challenge, notes Jody Dietz, a senior educational consultant, is gaining an employee's trust that his or her concerns will be held in confidence. "We are not lawyers, but we can create a model, for instance, showing that it is just as important to return a call from an employee as a manager," she says.

Dietz also talks about her visit to a high-tech company, which gave her a new appreciation for what could be done to improve Kodak's workforce. "I saw a lot of energy and creativity, a place where the word failure is not considered a bad thing."

Asked about her plans for hiring a new diversity director, Britt replies that she is looking for someone with global experience.

The session ends with brainstorming ways to encourage more members of the human resources team to sign up for the roundtables, among them improving the visibility of HR News, which is published on the company's intranet.

Just the Facts

Organization: Eastman Kodak Company

Responsibility: Inventor and manufacturer of photographic imaging products

Headquarters: Rochester, New York

Employees: 80,650 worldwide (42,300 USA)

HR Staff: 9 direct reports

HR Challenges:

  • Building employee confidence on the future following period of layoffs
  • Effectively competing in the war for talent
  • Understanding the implications of e-business in Kodak's traditional organizational culture

You should know: Founded during the era of glass-plate photography, Eastman Kodak Co. has been a pioneer in the picture-making business for over 100 years. As the company moves increasingly into the digital age, George Eastman's slogan coined for the marketing of his original $1 Brownie camera remains relevant:"You push the button, we do the rest." Kodak is committed to mass-producing its products at low cost, always with a focus on the consumer.

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