Posts Tagged ‘Rochester NY’

Kodak and the Rochester mentality

January 21, 2012

Rich Karlgaard of Forbes wote in the Wall Street Journal that Eastman Kodak Co. might not have failed if it hadn’t happened to be located here in Rochester, N.Y.

He said Kodak needed to be in a place where “success is the norm and innovation is built into the ecology.”  And he said Kodak CEOs did not make the bold and drastic decisions that were necessary because of excessive concern for the welfare of their employees and the community.

I heard stuff like this a lot when I was reporting on Kodak for the Democrat and Chronicle in the 1980s.  When Kodak started to falter, Wall Street analysts called for layoffs – the bigger, the better, in their view – and they complained about Kodak’s generous employee benefits and separation packages, which took money they thought rightfully belonged the stockholders.

It is true that Kodak’s operations were much more concentrated in a single city than almost every other major manufacturing employees.  I no longer have the figures on hand, but my recollection is that 40 percent of Kodak’s employees worked in the Rochester area.  Kodak accounted for one out of every eight jobs in the Rochester area, and one out of every three manufacturing jobs.  All of Kodak’s CEOs, from the death of George Eastman in 1932 to the hiring of George Fisher from Motorola in 1993, were promoted through the ranks and spent most of their careers in Rochester.  Kodak and Rochester were very much identified with each other.

During the 1980s, Kodak management was well aware, as Karlgaard noted, that the days of film photography were noted.  CEO Colby H. Chandler tried to incubate new enterprises within the corporate framework, but fostering start-ups within the framework of a larger corporation proved hard to do.  The new enterprises were neither self-reliant nor free of corporate independence.

Perhaps – who can say? – it would have been better for Kodak to launch its digital imaging business in a new location as a separate corporation, far from Rochester corporate headquarters.  Another Rochester-based company, Xerox Corp., did just that, and it didn’t work out.

In a deliberate effort to escape the Rochester mentality.  Xerox relocated its headquarters to Stamford, Conn., and its research laboratories to Palo Alto, Calif., so as not to be limited by the mentality of any one place.  Douglas K. Smith and Robert C. Alexander in their book, Fumbling the Future, wrote that scientists at Palo Alto Research Laboratories in effect invented the personal computer, but Xerox never capitalized on their invention.  Perhaps — who can say? —  if Xerox factories, research laboratories and headquarters had all been in the same place, the divisions of Xerox might have been able to work together to turn research innovations into marketable products.

(more…)

Sestina d’Inverno by Anthony Hecht

February 9, 2011

Here in this bleak city of Rochester,
where there are twenty-seven words for “snow,”
not all of them polite, the wayward mind
basks in some Yucatan of its own making,
some coppery, sleek lagoon, or cinnamon island
alive with lemon tints and burnished natives,

and O that we were there. But here the natives
of this gray, sunless city of Rochester
have sown whole mines of salt about their land
(bare ruined Carthage that it is) while snow
comes down as if The Flood were in the making.
Yet on that ocean Marvell called the mind

an ark sets forth which is itself the mind,
bound for some pungent green, some shore whose natives
blend coriander, cayenne, mint in making
roasts that would gladden the Earl of Rochester
with sinfulness, and melt a polar snow.
It might be well to remember that an island

was blessed heaven once, more than an island,
the grand, utopian dream of a noble mind.
In that kind climate the mere thought of snow
was but a wedding cake; the youthful natives,
unable to conceive of Rochester,
made love, and were acrobatic in the making.

Dream as we may, there is far more to making
do than some wistful reverie of an island,
especially now when hope lies with the Rochester
Gas and Electric Co., which doesn’t mind
such profitable weather, while the natives
sink, like Pompeians, under a world of snow.

The one thing indisputable here is snow,
the single verity of heaven’s making,
deeply indifferent to the dreams of the natives,
and the torn hoarding-posters of some island.
Under our igloo skies the frozen mind
Holds to one truth: it is grey, and called Rochester.

No island fantasy survives Rochester,
where to the natives destiny is snow
that is neither to our mind nor of our making.

(more…)

What is your city telling you?

February 7, 2011

Paul Graham is an essayist, computer programmer and venture capitalist who lives in Cambridge, Mass.  In one essay, he said the greatest of a city is determined by what it tells its inhabitants they should be.  How can a city send a message?  By providing an audience that applauds certain things and not others, Graham says; by providing peers that understand certain things and not others.

Paul Graham

Here are the messages he received from cities he has lived in.

Boston/Cambridge, Mass.: Be smart.

Silicon Valley:  Be powerful.

New York City: Be rich.

San Francisco/Berkeley.  Live well.

Los Angeles: Be famous.

Washington, D.C.: Be an insider.

Paris, France: Do things with style.

London, England: Be aristocratic

If this is true, what would be the message of Rochester, N.Y.?

The message I get from the city is this.

Rochester, N.Y,: Be nice.

I have to back up a little before I go on.  Any city is a different city to members of different social classes and groups.  Rochester wasn’t a very nice place to that high school athlete who, a couple of years ago, was shot dead on the street for supposedly looking disrespectfully at a peer passing by on the street.  So when I speak of Rochester, I speak of my own particular Rochester, which I don’t claim is everybody’s Rochester.  And in any city, or for that matter any large group, you can find people with almost any conceivable goal in goal.

At the same time, I think I have some basis for my claim about Rochester.  The old American Demographics magazine once did a survey on helpfulness and kindness in different American cities.  They sent people to different cities who asked strangers for directions, dropped their wallets and pretended not to notice and so on.  As I recall, Rochester always ranked high, maybe highest, in people who gave directions, retrieved and returned the wallets and so on.

Drivers are always quick to pull over to the side of the road and stop when they hear a fire engine or ambulance approaching, which, I’m told, is not always the rule in other cities.  I’ve never encountered road rage in Rochester.

In an earlier era, the famous anarchist Emma Goldman was radicalized by her experience of working in a Rochester garment factory, but during the time I’ve lived here, Rochester has been a city of labor peace.  This is partly because George Eastman of Eastman Kodak Co. and Joseph Wilson of Xerox Corp. pursued more humane policies than did, say, Ford Motor Corp. or General Motors Co. in Detroit.  But even the GM branch plants in Rochester had better relations with workers than GM in Detroit.

I have a sense of Rochester as a community and not just a collection of people who happen to live in a certain place.  If you’re a Rochesterian, do you have that sense?  If you live somewhere else, do you think your city is sending you a message?  What is it?

Click on Cities and Ambition for Paul Graham’s essay.

Taking root in the Flower City

October 13, 2010

Skyline of Rochester, NY

Before I moved to Rochester, N.Y., in 1974, I had lived all my life – except for college and peacetime military service – in or near Hagerstown in the western Maryland panhandle.  I was discontented in my work and had an opportunity to get a better job in Rochester, but before I accepted, I read books by Henry Clune and others to reassure myself that Rochester was a place with a history and identity and not just some sort of giant suburb.  Like many people in western Maryland, I had only the vaguest notion of an upstate New York separate and distinct from New York City and its environs.

I now have lived in Rochester more than half my life.  I think of Rochester as home and people in Rochester as “us.”  Rochester offers me everything I want in terms of what’s called “quality of life,” and yet it is a community of which I feel a part.

My friend Michael J. Brown, a lifelong Rochester resident, wrote an article in the Fall 2010 issue of Dissent magazine magazine about how living in one place relates to the ancient ideal of citizenship and what you lose when you sacrifice that ideal to the quest for status and success.

What’s at issue is the tension between belonging to a rootless professional culture and a rooted local one. The price of holding on to the latter may be exclusion from the status, power, and income the former offers. It’s not the case, however, that those leaving their childhood homes in places like Rochester are lighting out for wide open spaces where opportunity abounds and careers are simply open to talent. My peers are not leaving to pursue Jeffersonian independence; they’re leaving to enter large professional organizations in which they often become quite dependent—on the caprice of bosses, the vicissitudes of markets, the shifting terrain of mergers and acquisitions.

And this brings me back to how eager I am to tell people why I live in Rochester. It is not because Rochester affords me economic independence (though the low cost of living helps). There are surely capricious bosses and volatile markets here, too. But there is something else. There are the faces and the names of the people around me, each of which has a story behind it, each of which is a buoy anchored in the social sea, helping to orient me. There are the old buildings—the grand facades of high culture, the battered storefronts of the inner city, the sentinel-like pump house on the reservoir hill—to remind me of history and time. What is different in Rochester is that I own a piece of this place, and this place owns a piece of me. I’d like to suggest that this relation is the grounds for a special kind of independence.

via Dissent Magazine

(more…)