Disassembling Kodak

By / 9.6.2017

Kodak is regularly held up as an example of how a “real” innovation company behaves. For example, a recent New York Times story compared Apple unfavorably to Kodak, saying.

“Think about the contrast between George Eastman, who pioneered fundamental innovations in photography, and Steve Jobs,” Mr. Summers wrote in 2014. “While Eastman’s innovations and their dissemination through the Eastman Kodak Co. provided a foundation for a prosperous middle class in Rochester for generations, no comparable impact has been created by Jobs’s innovations” at Apple.

But the NYT story did not actually look at the number of people employed by Kodak over time, and compare it to the workers employed by by Apple and other tech companies.  So we’ve peered through years of annual reports to start disassembling Kodak.

Kodak was founded in 1888, but it incorporated in 1902 in its “modern” form.  Its worldwide employment peaked at 145K in 1988. At that time, 40% of its workforce was outside the United States. After that point, the company’s workforce fell off sharply, heading towards bankruptcy in 2012 (not shown). Note that there is a gap in reported worldwide employment during the war years. Also, worldwide employment was not reported for 1902 and 1903, and US employment was not reported for 1902.

It took Kodak 51 years to reach 70K employees worldwide, and 65 years to reach 100K employees. By contrast, today’s tech leaders got to those employment levels much faster

Years to reach this workforce
70K 100K
Kodak 51 65
Amazon 16 17
Apple 32 35
Facebook * *
Google 13 *
Microsoft 22 30


Here’s some charts that show this difference graphically.  We age-adjust employment by matching Kodak’s date of incorporation, 1902, with the 1981 FY of Apple’s IPO. This charge shows that at year 36, Apple’s workforce is almost triple the size of Kodak’s at the same age

Here are comparable charts for the other tech leaders.