Over the past 10 years or so Kodak has gone through more than its fair share of troubles, with several CEOs making confident predictions about better times ahead. Kodak has always provided great technology, but the business showed major declines while it changed tack. There have been several false dawns, so when Kodak invited Digital Printer to meet executive chairman and CEO Jim Continenza to learn about Kodak’s plans for the future Sean Smyth wasn’t sure what he was going to hear

The first thing to say is Mr Continenza has a great deal of passion and enthusiasm for the company, which is unrecognisable from the previous structure in terms of the direction and strategy he is implementing.

‘It’s simple,’ he says. ‘Kodak has a great history of printing and packaging, films and chemistry. But we lost our way and tried to do new things, not all successful. We were structured into different product sectors, duplicating management and sales function which would not always co-operate. Printers would have to deal with different Kodak people for plates, inkjet or toner presses, and software. People would not always pass leads on, making it difficult to develop a co-ordinated approach, meaning we missed opportunities. This is now different, Kodak is becoming a focussed organisation to put customers first.’

Mr Continenza is a marketing technology veteran, with a background in telecoms and with Vivial, a marketing communication technology provider. He is an experienced corporate turnaround executive – which is how he got involved with Kodak – and he is also chairman of Cenveo, ranked number nine among the largest print companies in North America, as well as Merrill Corporation.  His technology background, with real understanding of printing at operator level as well as strategically, makes him well-suited for one of the print sector’s major suppliers.

Back in black

Kodak sold its growing flexo plate business in 2019, and the sale, together with another $100 million raised from shareholders, allowed the business to remove the debt from the balance sheet putting Kodak into its best financial shape for years. The sale was also strategic, cementing Kodak’s transformation toward a digital print future, which Mr Continenza believes will be the critical success factor in the coming years.

They already have a significant digital printing business with revenues around US $300 million, with some $20 million spent on R&D for inkjet and toner presses, together with the Prinergy workflow software. This is now under the control of Randy Vandagriff, previously responsible for high-speed inkjet. Kodak sales has been restructured, to provide a more focused single point of contact for customers.

Drupa will see several important new press launches from the group based on UltraStream inkjet technology, together with upgrades to the five-colour Nexfinity toner presses. Prinergy workflow tools will be offered to more users through a cloud-based subscription model. Several new product announcements will be made public in late April and will be reported then by Digital Printer. There are a couple worth waiting for, with the Evo Sapphire Wide, developed with Uteco for flexible packaging with a web width of 1.25m and top speed of 150m per minute already in the public domain. And the pipeline beyond drupa looks exciting too.

We visited Mercury Printing Solutions which has five Kodak high-speed Prosper inkjet lines, a Nexpress machine and Kodak Prinergy workflow, along with other digital and litho kit. Mr Continenza spent time persuading one of the Kodak technicians to put off his retirement and continue to build the relationship with Mercury, rather than walking round with my group.

He is hands-on and committed. ‘We are going all-in,’ he says. ‘Kodak is now a different animal, we believe our products are the winning athletes in print. It is more than the technology, however. We help customers navigate through the future of print, we have tripled the number of people who visit customers. I have visited many of our customers and they want us to succeed. We are going to sell our way to success, not cut our way to success.’ And this positivity is firmly his message, with both Kodak people and customers getting it first-hand from a passionate man.

This is a powerful message, with Kodak losing its silo structure and promising to help open new ways for print and packaging providers to make money. Our industry is better with a healthy, innovative supplier base and it looks like the new Kodak will reclaim its place as a key technology provider under the stewardship of Mr Continenza. Not all supplier CEOs get print, but he does.