Rochester: Looking for a Second Act

When we were in Rochester Sara, Ben and I heard a good bit about Rochester making a serious bid for the Amazon 2 new headquarters. That would clearly bring back the former glory of Rochester when it was Kodak country, Kodak’s home town.

Here are two interesting articles. The first is by a journalist who grew up in Rochester but has lived in Seattle for the past two decades. He thinks Rochester won’t make the short list — and maybe not even the longer list — to claim the mantle of Amazon country.

And as ironic and interesting as it would be to have Amazon impact both my home in Seattle and my hometown of Rochester, I can’t picture Duffy and the city’s swing being anything but a miss. There are far too many other possible locations with more people, infrastructure, transit and other checks in the boxes Amazon is seeking.

The other is an article in the Seattle Times comparing the life of a janitor at Kodak with his or her counterpart at Apple. The Kodak janitor was a salaried employee with pension, health care, annual bonus [SIP] participation, education benefits and a chance to move up. The Apple janitor doesn’t work for Apple, but for the firm to which janitorial services are outsourced. Low hourly wage. No benefits. No upward advancement.

You might say, “But look what happened to Kodak — it failed — and Apple is still going strong.” That’s true. But Kodak didn’t fail because it invested in people. Jerry and I had a birds-eye view into company strategy through the 1980’s and ’90’s; our biggest single cluster of financial planning clients came from the ranks of Kodak VP’s, many working in strategy. Kodak made two huge, and ultimately fatal strategic mistakes. One was to discount digital — they had the technology and could have been first to market with many products — because they simply couldn’t believe that customers would reach a point of not wanting to have film printed into actual photographs. Film was their cash cow; they thought film would always be their cash cow. The second massive strategic error was to assume that developing countries would go through the same cycle of using film for decades once people began to be able to afford cameras, before shifting to digital. Instead, developing countries skipped film altogether and went straight to digital. The men high up in Kodak tower simply couldn’t believe what was happening before their very eyes.

Rochester has lots to commend it, and it was a great city to raise a family and build our business. But I’m with the journalist who wrote the first article. Can’t see Amazon becoming the big, bold new game in town.

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