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A Kodak Moment

Former chairman Daniel A. Carp makes the case for collegiate and corporate diversity

Few companies have retained the lead in their respective markets like Kodak. With a brand name that’s recognized around the world, this 117-year-old multinational corporation has remained competitive not only by making photography accessible and easy to use, but also by recognizing the value of diversity in the workplace.

“There’s no way that all White males can design and market products to diverse customers only through the White male view of how to design a camera,” said then outgoing Kodak chairman Daniel A. Carp at the recent Diversity Best Practices conference in Washington, D.C., in October.

In an interview with Frank L. Matthews, Carp, who received the Diversity Best Practices CEO Leadership Award in 2003, speaks candidly about the corporate sector’s well-documented diversity concerns. Many CEOs are worried that higher education is doing a poor job producing students who are well versed with and comfortable in the diverse settings that characterize today’s business environment.

DI: What is it that the higher education community needs to be doing in terms of diversity?

DC: There are two things that I see. First of all, they have to intervene and make sure the population is diverse on the campus. Business is so committed to diversity for the business reason, but if they don’t get diverse populations out of the university, then the engineering jobs, the software jobs, sales jobs, finance jobs — they’re not going to be able to build a pipeline in their own companies if they’re not coming out of the university. 

The second thing is, when I went to school in 1966 at Ohio University, the debate on campus about diversity, Black/White issues, was loud and clear and harsh. I think we came out of that setting more understanding. I don’t see that debate openly taking place on
college campuses today. And I know it’s uncomfortable, and I know it’s tricky and I know it can be hijacked into something it shouldn’t be. But if you can’t debate and discuss this topic on the college campuses, when are you going to do it? When you’re working? That’s too late. It should have been discussed on the campuses when everybody was there.

DI: The president of Ohio University, Dr. Roderick J. McDavis, is African-American. Could you have conceived of that when you were a student?

DC: No. 1966 was ugly. It was really ugly. And, in a sense, it was that discussion that, I think, helped some people to see what was going on. 

DI: Is that the reason you think the business community took the stand they did in the University of Michigan case about affirmative action and diversity?

DC: Yes. I really do. Kodak supported it, and I wrote a brief as part of that. We know we need diverse work forces. We know we need diverse leadership. And we also know that we depend heavily on the academic system in the United States for the quality of people we have. We weren’t sure that the Michigan technique was right, but we felt that Michigan has openly admitted that it’s an issue and at least was working on it and trying to propose a solution. We weren’t really saying that’s the right solution, we don’t know. But we do know that the purpose of what they were trying to do is right and we wanted to see that done at most universities. 

DI: One of the themes that keeps coming across is that in the corporate community there are real consequences for the lack of diversity, primarily in compensation and promotions. Why is it so difficult to get that into the higher education setting?

DC: I’m not in a university setting so I don’t really understand how that works, but I will fall back on my original statement. I don’t see the debate and the discussion going on, so then how are they going to accept that they have an issue to deal with?

DI: A couple of years ago, a leader of a foreign country said that one of the reasons that they have an advantage over the United States is because they have a homogeneous society. What do you think of that statement? Is there any business validity for such a statement?

DC: First of all, I’ve worked around the world. I’ve lived in Europe, Iran, Latin America. I’ve spent a lot of time this last five years in Asia, and I have seen, in my own experience, that diverse groups come up with better answers, more creative answers, more “stepping out,” “reaching out” answers than homogeneous groups. And I think that even the numbers suggest that. If you want the biggest, best brains, you better pull from the biggest collection of people you can. And if you limit yourself to a homogeneous group, then you’re not getting the best. So I don’t see any validity in that, and I’d even argue that there must be something underneath that, that has nothing to do with competitiveness.

DI: Your company has a long history of supporting historically Black colleges and universities. Mr. Eastman funded Tuskegee and Hampton universities, historically Black schools. How do you see that historical role as influencing your contemporary giving priorities?

DC: Well, it’s not good. While George Eastman, the founder of the company, is long gone, a lot of his teachings are a part of the values of the Kodak Company, things like customer service, integrity and respect for the dignity of the individual, which he demonstrated. But I think most businesses today, and we’re no exception, are under tough constraints. It makes whatever contributions and support it can toward organizations or universities that are helping feed what we need in the population. And it’s not on any other measure. It really isn’t. And I think it has to be that way, given the way we run business. Business now focuses on what it can get, something for its investment.

DI: So you leverage your dollars as a way of nudging universities to think about diversity?

DC: Nudging, and also to get to the front of the line to get some of the good people that are coming out of there.

DI: There are other companies that don’t get it, “it” being the case for diversity, but are still doing very well. However, their profiles aren’t as distinguished as yours. What do you think will be the long-term consequences for these companies? Can they be successful without being diverse?

DC: I don’t think so. As I talk to other CEOs, I would say that the majority of them get it, and they’re worried about it. If anybody’s not working on it, it’s because they haven’t figured out how to get the momentum going in their company. The CEOs I know are all concerned about this for the business reason of “how do I get the best minds.” There’s no way that all White males can design and market products to diverse customers only through the White male view of how to design a camera. 

DI: In your competition with Fujifilm, in terms of going from a chemical company to a digital company, how is diversity going to help you catch up in the area of technology transfer?

DC: First of all, we started on this many, many years ago, with our investment, and our intellectual property and our research and development. And today, we’re probably No. 1 in all the key digital areas. And we’re the No. 1 digital camera company in the United States, and the only non-Japanese company that’s competing in it. So we’ve been on this long push for that. To do that, we have to learn a whole new way of doing things. The old model was vertically integrated — chemistry.

The new model is horizontal digital competitiveness. To do that, people have to come together and work together with different backgrounds and different views of the world. They have to very quickly get beyond what you look like and what I look like and start solving these problems. And everywhere I go, whether it’s on the factory floor or in the executive suites, I see people in Kodak really starting their discussions on how to solve a problem without the normal barriers that I might have seen 10 years ago. Before it was “Okay, let her speak. We have to have a woman’s point of view.” Now it is, “What do you think?” or “Jump in here.” So, I see it’s already paying off as we make this transition. 

DI: Is it harder to sell the “we” concept now because of globalization? As the trend continues, especially in technology, what will it do to the idea that ‘we need to do this because it’s in the best interests of America?’

DC: I shouldn’t speak for all businesses, but we don’t talk about what’s best for America. Our political process deals with that. We talk about competing on a global stage, and within that issue of competing on the global stage, we talk about diversity and inclusion as one of our core competencies. Now, the problem with diversity is not unique to the United States. We have the biggest melting pot of people, but if you go to England and you happen to be Indian or Pakistani, you feel much of the same discrimination as people do in the United States. So we can take this corporate commitment to diversity and inclusion around the globe. It’s different, it’s clearly not as complicated outside the United States as it is inside the United States. But, if you commit to it as a company, you can carry that around the globe, and the proof for that is that every country has the problem, and we’re competing with companies who are working on these problems, and if we don’t get it right, we won’t get the biggest pool of people with the best minds.

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